Blackfire, a self-described "alter-Native" band, took Mills by storm in a dynamic concert that shook the foundations of Lisser Hall last Friday.
Siblings Jeneda Benally (back-up vocals/bass), Klee Benally (vocals/guitar) and Clayson Benally (back-up vocals/drums), who are of the Dine' Nation, led the audience through a performance that addressed a wide range of political issues, from those as specific as Native American human rights to topics as broad as peace.
The band channels their frustrations into the music they write. "This music is our outlet. We never had the intent to be a band, it just came naturally," Jeneda said.
"[Our music is] not political – it's our life, it's our struggle," Klee said.
The Black-fire set began with a Hoop Dance (the portion which the public is allowed to see) that is the part of the Fire Dance Ceremony. Clayson performed the dance for about 15 minutes, accompanied by Klee and Jeneda who chanted and drummed.
After the dance, the band plunged into a roughly three-hour long set of high-energy punk rock.
Audience members were enthusiastic. Many moved into the aisles so they had the freedom to thrash their bodies to the pulsing beat of the music.
Michelle Hutchins, a Mills alumna who graduated in '98, spoke nothing but praise for the band. "They're incredible and political and good and punk – c'mon now," she said.
"They're badass," said junior Esther Lucero, a member of the Native American Sisterhood Alliance (NASA) who was the master of ceremonies for the event. "That's exactly how I feel about them."
Originally from Black Mesa, Ariz., Blackfire now resides in Flagstaff.
"Where we come from really defines us as a band. That's what our music is about, so we try to share that in our music," Jeneda said.
The members of Blackfire began playing together during their preteen years with whatever instruments they could find. "We started playing with the intention of releasing some of the anger we had against relocation," Klee said.
In '89 Blackfire gave their first live performance and according to Jeneda, "our instruments were a lot bigger than us."
Since then, Blackfire has continued to spread their message through their music.
Jeneda sported a sticker which stated, "Snowboarders against Snowmaking" in reference to an issue at forefront in the band's current message. Many Native Americans are battling with the U.S. Forest Service and Arizona Snowbowl to prevent the expansion of the Snowbowl and to prevent them from making fake snow out of wastewater on a section of the San Francisco Peaks. The Peaks are a spiritual center sacred to "over 13 Tribal Nations." (www.savethepeaks.org).
In response to those who support the expansion of the Snowbowl, Clayson said, "You cannot divide spiritually; you cannot divide a heart into pieces and expect it to live and thrive – and this is what they don't understand."
For more information about the band's activism see page 1, or visit www.savethepeaks.org.
For more information about the band, visit www.blackfire.net.