Songs of the Colorado at San Pasqual 11/12

By Roy Cook

At the 11/9/12 San Pasqual screening of Songs of the Colorado, the filmmaker Dan Golding and his parents along with many of the DVD filmed principals and their friends and family were in attendance: Preston Arrow-Weed, Ron Christman, Quechan Elder Vernon Smith, Alan Hatcher, Ral Christman, Stan Rodriguez, Paipai Delphina Albanes from Santa Catarina and Jon Meza Cuero.

Some of the singers related how they came to be inspired to learn and finally sing their songs in public. Some of those song-stories may take an entire night to tell. Ethno-musicologists refer to them as song cycles. A Lead Singer like Preston Arrow-Weed will begin performing when the sun sets and continue through the night, until the sun rises the following day. Some song cycles may have as many as 300 songs that have to be performed in a particular order. Lead Singers dedicate their lives to learning each and every song in the string. Additionally this night there were various groups of dancers assembled, mostly female, and inspired by the gourd rattle and song joined in the song presentations. The dancing is often directed by the rhythm of the moment and lead singer. Often the selected songs will move the assembly to areas of complexity and delight.

The filmmaker Golding said, in a recent interview, “The songs are all sung in the Yuman language, so if you're not learning and picking up the language, then you won't be able to understand the songs. One could sing them phonetically, but there are actually words, along with vocal sounds, telling stories."

An upcoming related cultural opportunity to learn the Kumeyaay language will be offered this month, Nov. 16-18, 12, on the Sycuan reservation. Stan Rodriguez will lead a three day immersion workshop in the Kumeyaay language. Stan Rodriguez’s family is from Santa Ysabel. "The need to preserve my people's culture has been very important to me and by learning these songs I will be able to pass this tradition on to others. It is my fear that as the singers get older and pass away, the songs and the stories that are told in the songs will also die out."

This language at risk issue is a constant concern of this generation that the younger generations are not learning the language and the Elders who do speak it are slowly passing away. The natural order of life puts the language at risk of being lost. With that loss of language the unique songs and stories of all Yuman-speaking people are put in danger. Mehan.