Sayani, a mother and daughter singing team, will be the featured artists at the 2014 Robert Woolery Sr. Memorial Powwow July 18-20 on the Missouri State Fairgrounds.
Jorie and Christie West, of Springtown, Texas, are Christians and travel nationally and internationally ministering in song. The women, who lived in Hawaii for a time, are of Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Irish and English decent and their music is a blend of Native American and island influences. The pair were recognized in 2010 as Native American Music Award winners for Best Gospel and Inspirational Recording. The name of their group, Sayani, is translated to mean “Zion.”
The women spoke by phone to the Democrat recently from a Navajo reservation near Farmington, N.M., where they were performing with several ministry teams.
Jorie said the opportunity to come to the Sedalia powwow came through meeting Robert Soto, a Texas fancy dancer. Both the Wests and Soto performed at the same powwow.
“He’s from way south Texas, down there by the border of Mexico,” she said. “We started doing his powwow and then we met the owners of the Missouri powwow several years ago. And our schedule was never open to be able to come, so this is the first time. They are great people, they have done this powwow for years and we’re excited about getting to be with them.”
The women spend much of their year traveling and singing and have won many awards for their music.
“This is pretty much what we do full time,” Jorie said. “We’ve won a few Native American music awards, the ‘Sacred Fire’ album was Album of the Year for spiritual and inspirational category for 2010. And we’ve won for a couple compilations Native American CDs that we’ve written. And then we’ve won an Indian Summer Award with our Hawaiian album — ‘Aloha Ke Akua.’ We were still living in Hawaii when we won that one.”
Jorie said their travels have taken them to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Ireland and Europe.
“Our music is a mixture actually, all of the songs are originals,” she added. “It’s a mixture of everything that we’ve learned and experienced in our lives … we’re enrolled in the Cherokee Nation. Most of it is Native American Music but there is some Hawaiian influence — we have some Hawaiian songs in there. And Christie dances hula. We do a little bit of everything we know and it’s been well received. We are really blessed to be able to do what we do.”
When the Wests come to Sedalia they will be singing a mix of music also.
“We have found the Native Americans really appreciate a five minute trip to Hawaii,” Jorie said. “We’ve done it just about everywhere we go. Very rarely do we not do a couple of Hawaiian songs.”
Jorie, who has been singing all her life, said they sing at churches, schools, powwows and other events when invited.
“My parents traveled and sang,” she added. “Music has always been a major part of my life. My children have been raised the same way. Their father sang in California in a gospel music quartet … and we’ve sang in a group called the ‘Second Coming’ for years. So they traveled with us then.”
When the women were living in Hawaii they were singing with Hawaiian groups and have also sang back-up vocals in the recording studio for years. Traveling together and singing has become a full-time ministry the last eight years for the mother daughter team who work well together.
Christie, 37, said it’s been fulfilling singing with her mother.
“Oh yes, everybody actually thinks we’re sisters, because my mom looks so young,” she said. “We do have a very close relationship. And so it’s just my favorite thing, I love being with my mom. This is the best life really.”
During their performances Christie has watched how some of Sayani’s music, such as “Amazing Grace,” has touched the audience.
“We sing that everywhere we go,” she said. “We sing it a cappella, and about every time the room quiets. To be in a busy place like a powwow where there are vendors moving around and then we start singing ‘Amazing Grace’ and everybody stops. There’s just something about that song, we sing it in the Cherokee language. And it is actually the National Anthem of the Cherokee Nation — that one touches everybody.”
The women also have a song titled “Break Away,” that reaches deep.
“It address domestic violence,” she added. “That one touches people as well. It’s a very rough subject, it’s a very graphic song, but it touches everybody.”
“Father Teach Me to Fly” is another song that audiences gravitate towards.
“It’s on our ‘Sacred Fire’ album,” Christie said. “That one is based on Isaiah, Chapter 40 and it ministers to many people as well.”
She added that their “Sacred Fire” album was written by her mother and is based on the stories of their family and the Cherokee people and addresses difficult issues, much like the song “Break Away.”
“The struggles that Cherokees have gone through over the years, and some of the experiences of her mother,” Christie said. “There are different songs on that album that address those issues, even though they might be in a light-hearted tune the theme is still very much the same.”
After they perform at the memorial powwow in Sedalia the women have plans to do an Alaskan tour and also to sing in Germany.
“We have actually been talking to some people in Connecticut about going to Italy as well,” Jorie said.
The women don’t know exactly what their singing schedule will be at the memorial powwow, but they said they are flexible and will probably sing intermittently between the other activities.
“They like to have us sing while they are getting ready for Grand Entry,” Christie added.
Sayani has four albums with original music and a single track they offer for purchase. For more information about Sayani, their music, ministry or to book an appearance, visit donajoe.com.