Lecturer of American Indian Studies weaves traditional Pomo music in latest album

Author: Kent Bravo
November 18, 2022
Man playing a guitar
Photo Credit: James Pohaku

Paul Steward’s “World Champion” blends blues, rock and Native music

When you listen to Paul Steward’s music, you get more than a unique variety of musical stylings. You also get a glimpse into his childhood.

Steward, who is a lecturer of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University, listened to a variety of genres growing up on the Elem Indian Colony reservation: blues, rock, R&B, music of his Pomo tribe and more. In his latest album, “World Champion,” he skillfully blends these sounds.

With Native American Heritage Month underway, we spoke to Steward for a closer look at “World Champion,” the inspiration behind it and how he incorporated musical influences from his tribal upbringing.

What was the inspiration for this album?

My inspiration was to show the larger diversity of my musical abilities. The album is my first solo album. I’ve done eight previous albums as the lead singer and guitarist of a musical act called Twice as Good, which is my dad and me.

Twice as Good is famous for being a Native American act but more specifically in the blues genre. I wanted to branch out and be free to jump around into any genre or not be pinned to strictly blues. More of an outreach to pop.

How did you incorporate music from your tribal upbringing?

I’m Pomo Indian, and my heritage greatly influences me as a musical artist. One of the important things for me was to feature a new song that I wrote called ‘Myanik Xe,’ which is ‘beautiful music’ in Southeastern Pomo language.

Our tribe has a lot of different beliefs about our music — what should and should not be shared — because our music is often tied to ceremonial practice. But we have music that we celebrate at public gatherings. ‘Myanik Xe’ was written and composed based on the public music that we could share.

Before I released it, I shared the demo version with some of my tribal community members, relatives and elders to let them hear it and see whether they thought it was appropriate or not. I was very pleased they all said ‘yes.’

Why was incorporating Pomo music important to you?

There hasn’t been much of that done. Typically, it’s Native people doing American music. I feel like this is our era. This is our time. It’s a shift in perspective, and Native people are reembracing culture and putting it at the forefront. For me, I’m taking Native music and applying it to American music.

Are there any specific songs of the album that stand out to you?

I like them all. I wouldn’t have released them if I didn’t like them. I like all of them equally because they’re all different parts of my musical background of my artistry. All of them represent me and the different directions I go because that’s more where we are in the music industry.

Now I feel like people don’t stick to one genre. An artist is not always boxed into playing one style. I think we’re very free now, artistically, to create lots of different styles and jump in and out of genres.

Read more about Steward on the SF State website or listen to his music on his artist website.