Wade Fernandez brings a message to Lawrence

Ben Levine

This past weekend, the Multicultural Affairs Committee hosted the unique Native American rock band The Black Wolf Group. This critically acclaimed band blends the musical styles of rock, jazz, country and blues with traditional Native American music.
The Black Wolf Group is comprised of four members and is led by vocalist and guitarist Wade Fernandez. Fernandez is the creative force behind the group, writing and composing all of the songs.
The band lineup consists of percussion, keyboards, guitar, Native American flutes, and bass guitar. All of these instruments are used together to produce the unique sound of the group.
The Black Wolf Group is not really a band that creates music together, but rather a band that Wade Fernandez plays with. Fernandez is an accomplished solo artist who has won several awards including “Artist of the Year” from the Native American version of the GRAMMY awards, the NAMMY awards.
Fernandez draws on many different influences for his music. Growing up, he listened to a large amount of classic rock like The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix, though he also draws substantially from jazz and blues traditions. Most notable, however, are the various elements of Native American culture that influence him. The sounds of rituals and ceremonies are incorporated into his music.
In addition to the traditional Native American culture that surrounded him, life on the reservation proved to be highly musically stimulating for Fernandez. Music was a large part of daily life and culture on the Menomonee Reservation. Fernandez recalls about nine or 10 bands within the reservation that all made different types of music.
Fernandez would often go between these various bands and play with them in order to broaden his musical base. And all these elements put together help create the sound of The Black Wolf Group.
The band opened their set with a five-minute-long jam. The bass and drums produced a deep, groove-driven sound for the flute, keyboard and guitar to play over. As the jam continued, the members took turns playing solos and improvising. This jam would set the tone for the rest of the set.
The band then continued with songs that vocalized many of the challenges and concerns of the Native American community. The song “Commodity Cheese Blues” illustrated some of the aspects of life on the reservation that Fernandez had experienced first hand.
Some of the songs also had a more critical tone. The song “Discovering America ” was described as “History 102” and was dedicated to “Mr. Columbus.” The song itself showed Native American frustration at the ignorance of many Americans about the discovery and colonization of America. It was insightful and shed light on the thoughts behind many of those who live on reservations today.
The band closed with an acoustic-based song about Wade Fernandez’s children. This more personal tone rounded their set and related the broad themes of the group to individual people.
With his final song, Wade Fernandez drove home his message to Lawrence Students: Find out who you are. Know your stories and traditions. And be yourself.