Keeping Cultural Ties Through Music: An Interview With Good Shield Aguilar

20180117_192619Good Shield Aguilar performing at the Linden-Museum, Stuttgart, Germany, on January 17, 2018
(Photo taken by Sarah-Maria Klose)

Good Shield Aguilar is a Oglala Lakota and Pasqua Yaqui singer/songwriter and activist who is featured on “Native American Artists, Musicians and Writers”. In the context of the “INDIANER INUIT: Das Nordamerika Filmfestival”, which took place from January 18-21, he was invited to Stuttgart, Germany, in order to perform in different venues and as a visiting musician of the festival. I had the great pleasure to do this interesting interview with him in which you can learn more about his life as a musician and activist.
Enjoy the read! 🙂

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Sarah-Maria Klose interviewing Good Shield Aguilar
(Photo taken by Sonja Klose)

Sarah-Maria Klose: When did you start performing?

Good Shield Aguilar: I think I was fifteen when I first played in front of a big group of people. And I was very shy as a child but it seemed like when I had an instrument that I had such a passion for music that I wasn’t shy, I had a guitar. But yeah I was fifteen but I started playing instruments probably when I was about five – piano and drums.

Sarah-Maria Klose: And could you tell us a little bit about the beginnings of your career as a musician?

Good Shield Aguilar: Well, I didn’t really start being a professional musician until I think at around 2000. Floyd Westerman came to where I live in Northern California to play a benefit concert and at the time I didn’t really have a full band even though I had played on demands in the past. But as far as involving my culture, it wasn’t until I met Floyd that I started to write songs about my culture, you know, because I felt like that was something that I needed to keep to myself. I didn’t want to feel like I was making money selling my culture, but Floyd Westerman taught me that you could actually use music for things such as talking about Native issues and to share perspectives from a Native point of view. And so he was a big influence on me.

Sarah-Maria Klose: So Floyd was like a mentor to you?

Good Shield Aguilar: Yeah, very much. You know, he was a good friend of mine, a very funny guy and everybody just loved him. He was really good to be around and to work with. I played with him ‘til he passed away in 2007.

Sarah-Maria Klose: And what kind of music do you write? And who do you write your music for?

Good Shield Aguilar: I actually write all styles of music. I had my first band that I was playing with in venues at the age of eighteen. We were a thrash metal band and we were called Rebel’s Mother. I think at the time I was dealing with a lot of anger issues with, you know, just being a Native person and living today and learning about the historical stuff that happened after colonization. So playing that kind of music was very much a release for all that negative energy I had. It felt really good to release in that way and a lot of the lyrics I would write were very political. Very often that style of music is seen as devil music (laughing) and, you know, a lot of musicians in that style of music tend to write stuff about darker things. Of course, talking about Native issues isn’t a very happy subject but the music I wrote was coming from a place of love, you know, love for my culture. It was about us still being here and about trying to figure out how to weave the two worlds together.

 

20180119_193735Good Shield Aguilar performing at the Club Zentral in Stuttgart, Germany, on January 19, 2018
(Photo taken by Sarah-Maria Klose)

Sarah-Maria Klose: I think you already started answering that question but how would you describe your own music style?

Good Shield Aguilar: Well, I guess the music I play mostly –  I mean I don’t play thrash metal very often because not everybody likes that music – but the music I play mostly, I call it Indigenous Soul. I mix all kinds of styles of music: reggae, funk rock, folk, and traditional. So it very much sounds Native. Therefore I call it Indigenous Soul.

Sarah-Maria Klose: That’s a nice term! And you already told us about Mr. Floyd Westerman, do you have any other music influences?

Good Shield Aguilar: Yeah, actually, I really liked The Doors, you know, the old band from the sixties/seventies. I liked the way he used words to paint pictures. I felt like that was something I wanted to do and so I got really into music at that era for a while: The Doors, Pink Floyd, a little bit of Bob Dylan, not too much though. I think a lot of times music is very simple and there are not very many words to most music these days.  I like the idea of kind of painting a picture with music and bringing words to life.

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Good Shield Aguilar at the closing night at the Treffpunkt Rotebühlplatz in Stuttgart, Germany, on January 21, 2018
(Photo by Sarah-Maria Klose)

Sarah-Maria Klose: Which instruments do you play?

Good Shield Aguilar: I started out on piano and drums originally and eventually the bass. So when I started playing with bands, I started playing bass. Eventually I also started writing a lot music and therefore switched to guitar. I play piano, drums, guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, I did play flute, just not very often…I think that’s about it (laughing).

Sarah-Maria Klose: Wow, you could found your own one-man-band, you wouldn’t need anyone else, you would just need more arms I guess (both laughing).

Good Shield Aguilar (laughing): Well, I have three sons and they’re all musicians, so I’m just waiting for them to get a little older.

Sarah-Maria Klose: That sounds like a great plan for a new band! Does or did anyone from your family influence your music somehow?

Good Shield Aguilar: Yeah, actually my mom. My earliest memories are her playing piano and I’d say over half of my family know how to play instruments, but very few of them pursued it later in life. My Uncle Sam Hernandez was actually and still is a really well-known percussion player, so I would travel with him in the summertime. We would call it a roadie, somebody who, you know, helps with moving equipment and stuff. He was very influential on me: just to see him making a living of music and loving what he was doing and so I already knew that I wanted to be a professional musician. He definitely inspired me. And his nickname is Mambo, Mambo Hernandez.

Sarah-Maria Klose: Oh okay, so if we google him, we have to google Mambo Hernandez?

Good Shield Aguilar: Yeah, he’ll be on there, I’m sure.

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Good Shield Aguilar performing at the Linden-Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, on January 17, 2018
(Photo taken by Sarah-Maria Klose)

Sarah-Maria: What do you want to achieve with your music?

Good Shield Aguilar: Well, I think as far as music goes, I think my dream job would be just to be a music producer. I do produce music for friends of mine, but I love music so much that it would be great if I could just have a studio at home and I wouldn’t have to travel anywhere but where I want to (laughing). But talking about my music, I definitely would like to be more self-sufficient with it and I guess kind of what Floyd was doing: I’d like to share perspectives from a Native point of view. Especially in Europe I find that people are very interested in Native culture, maybe more so than in North America. So, all in all I’d just like to share different perspectives with people.

Sarah-Maria Klose: And what messages would you like to convey with your music?

Good Shield Aguilar: Yeah, I think it’s easy, too easy to be talking about negative things happening with Native people and, you know, our struggles. I’d like to focus on a positive feature, that’s why my band is called “7th Generation Rise”. I’d like to sing about the strength and the unity that we are still trying to build right now: things aren’t perfect yet but just to let others know that we are still here and that we are still speaking our languages and doing our ceremonies. That’s why I like to focus on the positive and not just Native people – it’s about humans in general, because I feel like we’re all on the same planet. If the planet is suffering, we are all suffering. I don’t feel like it’s a purely Native thing necessarily, it’s definitely all beings. I also speak on behalf of the buffalo: I’ve been travelling and speaking about their issues in Yelllowstone for sixteen years now so I don’t just speak for humans. I probably speak more for animals more than for humans (laughing). But, yeah, I like to be a voice for them and it’s definitely a passion of mine.

Sarah-Maria Klose: And do you have any favorite musicians?

Good Shield Aguilar: Yeah, I have lots of musicians that I look up to and, like I mentioned, most of the music I do listen to is really heavy, heavy music (laughing) and thrash metal but I like melody too. There is a band called System of a Down, their singer Serj Tankian –  his father is actually a famous Armenian opera singer and Serj has a lot of the same qualities. So even though the music is kind of intense, he still has this really strong and melodic quality to his voice, he is one of my favorite singers. Also Maynard James Keenan from the band Tool, he has a very, very beautiful voice, very dynamic. He could probably sing any style of music. And my favorite guitar player is a man named John Butler which actually isn’t thrash metal, it’s more …I don’t know what you would call it, it’s definitely rocking. He plays a twelve-string guitar and he actually only puts eleven strings on it I guess because … he just does (laughing). And he’s my favorite guitar player right now. I mean, I could name dozens and dozens of musicians but those are the main ones I listen to.

Sarah-Maria Klose: Do you have any advice for young upcoming musicians?

Good Shield Aguilar: I’d say don’t get discouraged because sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not easy, but if the passion is there, just be persistent: because I think if you’re creating something good the world will kind of open doors for you. And it’s all about how you’re pursuing it: if you’re doing it from your heart then I think you have more opportunities than if you’re doing it just for money which anybody can do. But for me it’s not as fulfilling if you’re just doing it to become a commercial artist. If that’s what people want then that’s good for them, but personally it’s not what I’m in it for. But I guess, yeah, just be persistent and if it’s your dream then just keep going for it.

20180117_204315Kholan Studi, Raye Zaragoza and Good Shield Aguilar performing at the Linden-Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, on January 17, 2018
(Photo taken by Sarah-Maria Klose)

Sarah-Maria Klose: So what are some of your other music projects? You already talked about your band….

Good Shield Aguilar: I actually do play in a bluegrass band. I don’t know if you know bluegrass?  One of my favorite bluegrass bands is The Devil Makes Three, they are a pretty awesome band. I play with a musician named Linda Faye Carson. The name of the band keeps changing but, you know, it’s kind of a bluegrassy style. I also play off and on with Raye Zaragoza. I play drums for her and back-up vocals. I still do have a metal band. We haven’t played in a long time, but I think the last name we were using was El Fuego. Before that it was Frantic. I have people that I played music with just to have fun. I think I probably do most gigs with Linda Faye Carson when it comes to performing songs that I did not write.

Sarah-Maria Klose: I think I saw some videos of you guys on YouTube. And in which countries or states have you performed so far?

Good Shield Aguilar: Well, I usually come to Germany every spring. Then also Poland, France and the Netherlands, those are the main European countries where I have performed. I just played in Switzerland for the first time. I will probably be back there in springtime again. In America, I usually don’t go to the East Coast, it’s a little different than the West Coast and it’s really fast-paced there. I mostly stick to the West Coast and South Dakota, Colorado, Montana areas and Arizona. Actually, I played a lot there too.

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Good Shield Aguilar performing at the Linden-Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, on January 17, 2018
(Photo taken by Sarah-Maria Klose)
Sarah-Maria Klose: So when and where will your next gigs take place? Do you have any gigs planned for after the festival?

Good Shield Aguilar: I usually do play a lot of music festivals in the U.S. in the summertime, and I do have some gigs in Europe coming up in April and May, so I’ll try not to do anything other than be home until the springtime.

Sarah-Maria Klose: Yeah, I can understand that (both laughing). And where could one listen to your music?

Good Shield Aguilar: Well, on my website, it’s www.goodshieldmusic.com and there should be links on there to a couple of videos. I don’t really have very many professional videos on YouTube, but I do have a bunch of little things on YouTube. I plan on working on some videos as soon as I get back. I already started filming for some videos, so hopefully in the near future I’ll have some more professional videos out there (laughing).

Sarah-Maria Klose: Okay, cool. That is great news! And I guess I almost asked that questions: but what inspires you in general?

Good Shield Aguilar: Just being in nature really inspires me. You know, I live part-time in Northern California in the redwood forest. I’m there most of the time. But I also live in Yellowstone, Montana, in the wintertime. I hear music everywhere when I’m in nature, not so much when I’m in cities. My family, my three sons definitely inspire me every day. And just being part of this seventh generation! In general I feel like it’s a renaissance time right now for indigenous people. You know, it was said that the seventh generation would bring our culture kind of back from a dormancy. But that it would also inspire non-Native people to kind of just think more about how they live on the planet and to think more about their future because you’re usually taught that the meek shall inherit the earth but we don’t see it that way. We say that we borrow this time right now from our future generations, from our grand-children. So this means that the in the way we live on the planet we should consider them because this isn’t ours: we’re borrowing it from our grand-children that are yet to come.

Sarah-Maria Klose: Yes, I think that is a much better way to continue! Can you tell us a little bit about your involvement in the Buffalo Field Campaign?

Good Shield Aguilar: Well, in the year 2000 I met my aunt Rosalie Little Thunder who is the co-founder of the Buffalo Field Campaign. At the time, I didn’t know who she was, but she was travelling through my area of California showing a film called “The Buffalo Wars” and it was the first time I became aware of the issue in Yellowstone with the buffalo. So I think the following year I did a few music concerts to support the Buffalo Field Campaign and then two years after that I started to do a little tour every fall. We would tour about six weeks on the West Coast of the U.S.. So I guess I have been doing this for about sixteen or seventeen years now. And I’m still surprised, as long as I’ve been doing this, I’m surprised that people in the U.S., the majority of them, don’t know that this is happening,  so they’re usually pretty outraged as they should be.

Sarah-Maria Klose: Indeed! I am looking forward to watching your documentary “Tatanka Vs Montana” on Saturday which deals with the conflict surrounding the buffalo in Yellowstone. Since you’re living far away from your ancestral homelands, how do you manage to keep up your strong cultural ties?

Good Shield Aguilar: Well, the tribes in my area of California, their language and their dances are still very strong, so that inspires me. As far as Native culture goes, I’m involved in different ceremonies. I go and support the California dances of the tribes where I live. My mom is Yaqui, so we were actually peyote people and so I take part in peyote ceremonies. I’m also a bear dancer, which isn’t a Lakota dance. Most Lakotas are known as sun dancers. But I’m also taught that that’s not just something that you choose to do. Somebody has to dream about sun dancing before they sun dance. Or if they’re invited by an elder or spiritual person then they are to sun dance but I never had that calling. However, I’ve always had a connection with bears and especially when I moved to where I live now, every third time I went into the forest I’d come across a bear. So being part of the California Bear Dance has been a great honor. Just being around Native people and ceremonies is inspiring to me. But I do go back to South Dakota every summer to visit family. So it’s not very hard to do if you know where to go and, you know, the group of people you choose to be around.

Sarah-Maria Klose: And how are you involved in the “INDIANER INUIT: Das Nordamerika Filmfestival”?

Good Shield Aguilar: Well, so far I’ve played a couple of concerts with Raye Zaragoza and Kholan Studi. But I will be showing a film that I helped make on Saturday. I will be answering questions after the film. It’s a short film. I’m here meeting other film makers, musicians and organizers in Germany. It’s my first time being part of a European filmfestival. Actually, I just played on one in the U.S., but a pretty small one. This one’s actually like a hundred times bigger (laughing). Some of the films that are shown here were actually shown at the filmfestival where I was just at. But there is a lot more energy here and it seems like there is a lot more interest here.

20180120_174256Good Shield Aguilar at the Q&A after the screening of “Tatanka Vs. Montana” at the Treffpunkt Rotebühlplatz in Stuttgart, Germany, on January 20, 2018
(Photo taken by Erika Knecht)

Sarah-Maria Klose: That is good to hear! And besides being a musician, you also create art. Can you tell us a little bit your artwork?

Good Shield Aguilar: Yeah, I was about two when I started to draw and my mom saved some of my earlier artworks. I used to draw dinosaurs, and horses, and Indians, of course (laughing). But I’ve drawn probably longer than I’ve played music. I was actually going to college as an art major and in high school I took a ton of art classes. I had no intentions of teaching it, I was just going to college because I wanted to check it out but realized really quickly that college isn’t for me, it just moves way too slow. You know, I’m that kind of person that needs to be doing something all the time. I don’t paint or sculpt as much as I would like to. But whenever I have the time, I like to do it still. But, yeah, I think I spend more time doing music. That’s good too. But it would be nice to just be at home for a little while and, you know, just do a ton of painting (laughing).

Sarah-Maria Klose: Maybe you can do that after the filmfestival (both laughing). And what type of art do you create?

Good Shield Aguilar: Yeah, I like sculpting, it’s actually probably my favorite, but you do need a big area. I just moved into a big house, so I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do. I’ve been gathering a bunch of big driftwoods. But I mostly do ceramic stuff with clay. I can carve too, though. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. I also make jewelry and I paint, draw. That’s about it, I guess.

Sarah-Maria Klose: Well, that is a lot already (both laughing). Is there any place one could go to in order to take a look at your art?

Good Shield Aguilar: At this point, I only have pictures on my Facebook-page. But I do have an online store; it’s just not set up yet. Well, I mean, it’s set up, I just haven’t put all the pictures of my artwork on there yet. I don’t have a name for it quite yet but you can see some of my artwork on my Facebook-page, it’s Goodshield Aguilar Facebook.

Sarah-Maria Klose: Did you take any music or art lessons? You already talked about art in college…

Good Shield Aguilar: No, it’s mostly self-taught. My mom actually took a few lessons when she was younger, but she is self-taught too. Like if I told her to play an A, she doesn’t know what I’m talking about. I actually read books on music so I kind of know about music theory, but, yeah, I’m mostly self-taught. You do learn a lot by just playing with people. I think that’s probably the best way I learned how to play music. Just by playing with people, learning a little things here and there (laughing).

Sarah-Maria Klose: Well, this was actually my last question for you, so thank you very much for answering all my questions and for doing this interview with me! I hope you enjoy the filmfestival and your time here in Stuttgart!

If you want to learn more about Good Shield’s music and other projects, please visit his homepage (http://www.goodshieldmusic.com/) and Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/GoodShieldAguilar7thGenerationRise/) ! 🙂

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Sarah-Maria Klose and Good Shield Aguilar after the interview
(Photo taken by Sonja Klose)

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Sonja Klose, Sarah-Maria Klose and Good Shield Aguilar at the Linden-Museum in Stuttgart, Germany, on January 17, 2018
(Photo taken by Martin Otto-Hörbrand)

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