Blues-rock band Indigenous to perform in Aztec

Mike Easterling
Mato Nanji has enjoyed a long career as the frontman of the seminal Native band Indigenous, but he's also played and recorded with a long list of other notable artists.
  • Indigenous has been together since the late 1990s, recording a number of well-received albums.
  • Frontman Mato Nanji has played and recorded with David Hidalgo from Los Lobos and other respected musicians.
  • The group now features the members of the Plateros, a blues-rock trio from Tohajiilee.

FARMINGTON — Even though he has had a significant amount of success with Indigenous, the blues-rock outfit he has fronted since the late 1990s, Mato Nanji has never been reluctant to put that project aside for months at a time and make music with other artists.

For instance, he’s been a regular on the Experience Hendrix tour since 2002, playing the music of the legendary Jimi Hendrix alongside the guitarist’s original band members and such other artists as Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, Eric Johnson and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. He also collaborated with Los Lobos front man David Hidalgo and North Mississippi Allstars co-founder Luther Dickinson on the 2012 disc “3 Skulls and the Truth,” among other projects.

So even as he goes back on tour with Indigenous this summer — including a stop this weekend in Aztec — Nanji is also deeply involved in another recording project with a fellow Experience Hendrix artist, Noah Hunt, who is the lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band.

Nanji said the two have known each other since they were on a B.B. King tour in 1999, but it was only recently that they decided to work together.

“We just kind of kept in touch. We’d see each other here and there,” Nanji said by phone last week from his home just outside Sioux Falls in South Dakota. “But during the last couple of Hendrix tours, we talked about doing something a little different from what we normally do. Finally, we just decided, ‘Let’s do it.’”

That “something a little different” turned out to be original tunes, as opposed to the interpretations of Hendrix classics they were performing on the tour. Nanji said the two have been getting into the studio whenever they can for the past several months, laying down tracks in anticipation of having the disc completed by this fall.

“It’s definitely kind of bluesy and still a lot different than my solo stuff,” Nanji said.

His collaboration with Hunt is just one of the many benefits his participation in the Experience Hendrix tour has yielded over the years, Nanji said. He considers the tour important because Hendrix was one of Nanji’s biggest influences when he was growing up on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, and the tour exposes Hendrix’s music to an entire new generation of fans, he said.

“It’s basically been keeping his music alive, which is really cool,” Nanji said. “And there are not any other artists like that that they’re doing that with.”

The tour itself is such a professionally run operation that Nanji can’t help but enjoy it for that reason alone.

“The way they put it together is really cool and really smooth,” he said, explaining that he recently completed a swing of more than two dozens show as part of the tour down the East Coast, across the Southeast and through the Midwest. “Every year, it gets tighter and tighter with more sold-out shows. It’s unlike any other kind of show I’ve seen before.”

Nanji’s devotion to Hendrix in particular and blues-rock in general set him apart from the other residents of the reservation at an early age, he said, noting that country music seems to be the preferred music of most of the folks he grew up around. But Nanji was raised in a household where his parents’ record collection featured everything from old R&B and Cream to Chicago and the Eagles, and his father and uncles were part of a band called the Vanishing Americans that toured with the likes of Bonnie Raitt. Later, Nanji would find his way to harder rockers like the Black Crows and Rage Against the Machine.

Though most of the people he grew up around on the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota listened to country music, Mato Nanji always gravitated toward such blues-rock artists as Jimi Hendrix.

Once he picked up the guitar and realized he wanted his life to focus on music, it didn’t take long for Nanji to understand he’d have to leave the reservation.

“I knew I’d have to leave and go other places to get heard,” he said. “Now, I travel all over the country.”

The fact that his music may not have been appreciated much on the reservation hasn’t stopped Nanji from becoming an icon of Native music. Indigenous – which originally was made up of Nanji and his brother, sister and cousin, all in their late teens – quickly established itself as the standard bearer for Native popular musicians, releasing several well-received albums between 1998 and 2005, including 2000’s “Circle,” which was produced by the late Doyle Bramhal Sr., close friend and collaborator of Stevie Ray Vaughan. Indigenous won numerous Native American Music Awards, registered a hit on the Billboard rock charts, drew an invitation to take part in King’s annual blues tour, and made appearances on “Austin City Limits,” PBS’s “All Things Considered,” “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and “CBS Saturday Morning.”

But after seven years, that successful and satisfying run came to an end. His other family members were ready to move on, and Nanji decided to carry on the Indigenous name, and tradition, with different personnel. Over the next decade, he would work with a variety of artists while continuing to front the band, but it wasn’t until 2014 that he would finally settle into another groove with a group of other Native musicians — the Plateros, a blues-rock trio from Tohajiilee.

Nanji said Indigenous never really lost its identity over that time, but he recognized that the addition of the Plateros would help anchor the band again.

“I had known of them for a long time and even played with (frontman and lead guitarist) Levi (Platero) when he was a young kid,” Nanji said. “I thought the whole band was just great. I held off for a little bit, because I knew I needed to let them grow and concentrate on what they were doing, but a couple of years ago I thought that inviting them to open for me would be a really cool way to bring them into it.”

Mato Nanji says his collaboration between  the Plateros and his band Indigenous is something he plans to continue for a long time.

A year later, Nanji would simply fold the Plateros into Indigenous, although to hear him tell it, it was really the other way around.

“It was more like me joining their band,” he said, laughing. “It was a really smooth move.”

Nanji appreciates the energy that Levi Platero, Douglas Platero and Bronson Begay have brought to Indigenous and said he feeds off that.

“They’re still really young, and they’re seeing a whole different music industry than I did,” Nanji said, referring to how the digital age has changed the template for how bands go about making a name for themselves. “They’re a little more knowledgeable about that than I am. Then again, there’s nothing that can take away from going out and hitting the road and becoming the best that you can be.”

That kind of seasoning is what Nanji hopes to build with the Plateros over the course of the summer. The group will conduct a West Coast swing after leaving New Mexico, then hit the northern Great Plains in August and Texas in September.

Nanji is intent on building his chemistry with his new bandmates over that time with an eye toward getting the group in the studio next year to record the next Indigenous album. He views his partnership with the Plateros as a long-term arrangement rather than simply the latest phase in the Indigenous journey.

“I think we’ll do it as long as we can,” he said. “I’m happy, and I feel like we’re making it work. I definitely enjoy it.”

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

If you go

What: Indigenous in concert

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 25

Where: Crash Music at the Aztec Theater, 104 N. Main Ave. in Aztec

Tickets: $18 at or 505-427-6748

For more information: Visit