Courtesy of Brulé/Tom Wallace
American Indian Rock Opera
The heart and soul of Brulé springs from the life story of the band’s leader, Paul LaRoche, who discovered he was full-blooded Lakota when he was 38. He knew he had been adopted, but he didn’t discover his Lakota heritage until after the death of both adoptive parents.
He learned he had been adopted at birth off the Lower Brule Sioux Indian Reservation, and it remains a mystery why he was given up for adoption by his mother, who had died by the time he learned the truth and who had kept and raised his younger brother and sister. He was united with them and aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews on Thanksgiving Day 1993.
“When my brother called me on that November day in 1993 and told me who I really was, he said to me, ‘Come home, bro. Come home.’ And so we sold everything, packed up the car, and headed to the reservation in South Dakota,” Paul says, after the Thanksgiving day reunion visit.
Overwhelmed by the experience of growing up in mainstream white culture and then discovering his Native American heritage, Paul turned his powerful feelings to the humanitarian cause of reconciling both cultures through music.
You could compare Brulé to, or at least find elements of, everything from Cirque de Soleil to Pink Floyd’s The Wall to Tommy by The Who. Brulé delivers American Indian culture with a powerful drum-driven drone by drummers Vlasis Pergakis and Lowery Begay on authentic drums of buffalo hide-covered hollowed-out sycamore trunks that are almost four feet in diameter. Then add to this the contemporary drumming by Kurt Olson, and you have a chest-penetrating thumping that creates a suspense-filled expectation of something very special about to happen.
The pounding rhythm is the foundation from which Brulé unleashes an ever-building dynamic opera of sound and motion. Band leader Paul LaRoche adds the synthesized massive walls and waves of crashing thunder and wailing wind from the keyboards. Then Paul’s son, Shane, wails in on electric guitar with gutty, gritty undertones as his sister, Nicole, floats above it all with a flute, like an eagle swooping and soaring—all somehow evoking endless prairies and open skies.
As it continues to build, authentic American Indian dancers take the stage in regalia that delivers a captivating visual force. Brulé uses both traditional Native American dancers and what Paul calls “fancy dancers,” dressed in neon regalia that seems to glow and come to life as the dancers whirl and twirl at break-neck speeds.
Each professional dancer is an expert in the dance he or she performs, and all have won numerous awards in the Pow Wow Competition circuit. The authenticity and expressive quality is so real that at times you sense the dancers are transformed into some ancient ancestor.
In between performances, Paul gives a heart-felt and warm narrative that describes and explains the heritage of what you are seeing.
From Paul’s long-flowing black hair to Nicole’s swaying movements as she plays her flute, to drummer Vlasis, who shakes a prayer gourd with one hand while keeping beat with the other, each performer seems to express a deep love of heritage with each song.
Brulé performed at Branson’s RFD-TV The Theater last and was met with such enthusiastic audiences that the theater owners invited them to stay through 2010.
Paul tells many stories about the strange and wonderful trip that led him, his family, and the band to Missouri. But nothing is more illustrative of his beliefs than the story of his transformation from “just a regular guy” to an American Indian. Just as Paul listened when his past came calling, he also listened when his music became his calling.
“I really didn’t know what I was doing. I just started going out and playing what I felt was inside me, all this music coming out. And it was just me going out, and my daughter Nicole had just left the symphony and decided she wasn’t interested in classical flute. She decided to go with me. I think she felt sorry for me, but that’s okay. I was just glad she wanted to be a part of it.”
Then it was only a matter of time before son Shane followed. Paul’s wife, Kathy, is Brulé’s business manager. She is also a highly accomplished violinist in her own right but prefers the behind-the-scenes details.
In 1999, Paul was selected as a musical ambassador and speaker for the United Nations Peace Conference held in the Hague Center for Peace, Netherlands. Brulé’s annual coast-to-coast tour with his band American Indian Rock Opera (AIRO) has included performances at such venues as the Hollywood premier of Kevin Costner’s movie Open Range; Indian Art Markets in Denver, Arlington, and Overland Park; Harbor Fest in Virginia Beach; Indian Summer in Milwaukee; and the world-renowned Ordway Theater in St. Paul. They perform a special holiday concert called Red Nativity.
With national appearances on Regis and Kathie Lee, CNN Worldbeat, QVC, and others, Brulé and AIRO have come of age. The 2007 Native American Music Academy awarded Brulé and AIRO with the prestigious Group of the Year award as well as the award for Best New Age Record, and in 2008, Nicole received the highly acclaimed award for Best Female Artist. The DVD Live at Mt. Rushmore won the award for Best Long Form Video. The 2009 award for Group of the Year was presented to Brulé & AIRO for the CD Lakota Piano.
Brule and AIRO made history on July 13-14, 2007, with their spectacular full-stage production that was filmed for a PBS special, Live at Mt. Rushmore: Concert for Reconciliation of the Cultures, with eleven thousand people attending.
You can also see Paul on RFD-TV every Monday at 8:30 pm, Tuesdays at 10:30 am, and Wednesdays at 7:30 am as he presents Hidden Heritage.
Visit www.brulerecords.com for more information.