SOCIAL CHANGE THROUGHMUSIC, DANCE & STORYTELLING
Christian Parrish Takes The Gun, known professionally as Supaman, is an Apsáalooke fancy dancer and rapper who grew up in Crow Agency, Montana. He utilizes his performances and workshops to foster cultural change. These are his candid thoughts from a recent interview.
When I’m dancing, when I first go out there dressed up and they are singing, I can see my relatives and my family around me, with the thought of this is who I am. I come from this earth, this land, and those songs. This whole culture is ancient and powerful, and it’s all rooted in spirituality and the connection with the creator. Just that thought goes through my mind when I’m out there and makes my heart sing. It makes me feel good, makes me feel connected.
It’s a positive, spiritual experience for me when I’m out there. So, when I dance, I try to be creative in how that music makes me feel. Inside I’m moving and it’s just like, I’m staying connected, I’m expressing myself. Some say, “It’s a prayer. People pray when they dance or before they come out to the circle, they’re bringing that good medicine.” They say, “We’re bringing that good medicine dance to the people who are watching.”
Hearing hip hop for the first time being from Montana, you had to wait for it to be in the mainstream for us to really experience that culture of hip hop, and so it was becoming commercial at that time. And the sound and the rhythms, it’s like, they always say it’s rooted in African culture that comes from drum culture as well, stuff like that. I mean, they go really deep into the sound part as well as the dynamics and values of the drum.
“What can I do to help you? What can you do to help me? Let’s lift one another up, because we’re the same.”
We started B-boying, breakdancing, things like that, participating in this fun culture and then to be an MC, to be vocal and rap, we would play around with it and we’d freestyle. But in actuality, we never really thought we had the right, to be an MC or be vocal about it because we weren’t from the city. We didn’t have the accents; we didn’t talk like them. We never really thought we had the right until I heard other Natives using that medium of hip hop to express and tell their stories.
When I heard them doing it, I was like, “Yo, I can do this too.” I’m like, “I can do this. I can tell my story. I can be just as good as any rapper on the radio.” So, I was empowered to hear other Natives practice that culture of hip hop and tell their stories from a native perspective. So, from then, that’s when I started being more serious about it, started creating music and being confident in putting myself out there.
Along the way, I never put drums into my music and never added the culture at all. For years, I never did that, because where we come from, you just don’t do that. It’s like, “Hey, what’s this guy doing? Get this guy out of here. You can’t do that.” So, I knew that in my mind and never did it because I know our elders would have something to say. There are different protocols to follow when it comes to the culture and things like that. But how it happened was, I was in Bozeman, Native American Heritage Day, and we got invited to share culture on that day, to dance.
So, we showed up and we danced, we talked about the history of the dance. And there were some singers there, a tepee presentation, different Natives were there. Then we got done performing, doing our dance, culture dance, and then we went off to the side, off the stage, and then the lady who was running it, she came over and she goes, “Hey, don’t you guys do rap music? Don’t you rap?” And we’re like, “Yeah, we do.” She said, “Why don’t you rap for all these kids here? There’s a lot of students here.” And we’re like, “Sure, yeah, we’ll do it.”
Then we started walking back to our vehicle to go change from our dancing regalia, into whatever hip hop. So, we went, and she goes, “Where are you going? Where are you going?” I was like, “Well, we’re going to go change.” She said, “No, just go on right now. Get up there and rap for them and we’ll be done.” And we’re in our outfits. You just don’t do that, and we’re like, “Well, let’s just do it.” My nephew was like, “Let’s do it and we’ll go eat. Let’s get this done.”
We got up there and we rapped in our outfits for the first time, and people are like, “What the heck is this?” There was something new in that moment. It was special, it was unique, and they vibed-out to it, they jammed down. They were like, “Okay, all right, sounds good. This guy’s a good dancer, and he’s rapping.” We got done and we went off to the side and I saw one of our elders from our tribe. He was walking over, he was coming over kind of on a mission. I thought he was going to scold us.
I was wondering what he was going to say, and I was going to take it, and I didn’t know how to respond. I was going to be, “Hey, they just wanted us to do this. I’m sorry, it won’t happen again, or whatever. But he came over and before he got to us, he took his hat off, showing respect, and he stuck his hand out to shake it. He’s like, “Hey,” he said, “Grandson,” he said, “I want to shake your hand.” He said, “That was powerful, what you boys just did.” He said, “You got up there and you danced, and you showed them that you’re proud to be Apsáalooke, and you’re upholding the culture and you’re good dancers.”
And he said, “Then you spoke the language of those young people, which was hip hop, and they listened to you because of it. Then you have something positive to say. I heard you talking about being a husband, being a father, being drug and alcohol-free.” He said, “Man, that’s powerful.” He said, “Our young people are committing suicide. They’re on drugs, they’re on alcohol. They’re losing their language, they’re losing their culture. Anything you boys do to reach them in a good way with good intentions in your heart, man it’s worth it. It’s worth doing. You boys keep that up.” That’s what he said, “Keep that up.”
So, hearing it from our own elders, from our tribe saying, “Keep that up and that it was a good thing,” actually changed my mindset. It changed my perspective on putting the two cultures together because I never did it before. I always thought it was wrong. But to hear it from our elders that it was more important to reach the people who are listening in a positive way, was a good thing.
Learn more about Supaman and his music by visiting the website at www.supamanhiphop.net.