They learned how to play instruments in their basement by listening to their parents’ collection of blues greats, but their sound is all their own. Brothers Mato Nanji and Pte, sister Wanbdi and cousin Horse are Indigenous, a rocking blues band that is all native and all family.
She is used to sitting at the drums behind her famous brothers and cousin, especially charismatic front man and guitarist, Mato Nanji. The limelight is usually focused upstage of her and she prefers it that way.
As a Dakota Indian woman in a renowned group, Wanbdi occupies a unique place in the world of rock and roll. She is on tour much of the time, traveling with her family and playing to fans on a hectic schedule that includes venues all over the United States and abroad. After several tries and bad cell phone connections, we finally caught up with her one warm winter’s day while she was around for the weekend.
TNV: We don’t seem to hear much from you. We hear a lot from Mato and from the rest of the group. I don’t really remember hearing much from you, you know, specifically. Has this been by your choice?
Wanbdi: I really don t do interviews. I pretty much just stick to my own thing and I’m not really interested in this kind of stuff. I’m more interested in just playing music and, you know, just living my life. I don’t really have much to say to anybody.
TNV: Well, that’s kinda how it looks. Like you just want to have your privacy and do your thing. The reason we wanted to talk with you is that it seems like there are a lot of people who watch you and even though you’re sitting at the drums and are behind everybody, and you kinda stay quiet, people still notice you, you know. You’re very pretty and the only woman in the group so you’re going to get attention. When did you start playing the drums?
Wanbdi: When I was about 15. My Dad’s the one who encouraged me to play. I didn’t really know anything about it and he raised us not to…I wasn’t any different from my brothers or I wasn’t any different from him or any different being a girl or whatever. He always made it to where I was not any different from my brothers. It was the only instrument left anyway…because you know, Mato took the guitar, and everybody took their instruments, so it was the only instrument left to play, so I took it.
TNV: You got the drums kinda by picking straws almost, huh?
TNV: Do you play any other instruments?
Wanbdi: Well, I play guitar. Do both, now and then.
TNV: How is it playing the drums? You’re the backbone of the rhythm section, the center of the music.
Wanbdi: It’s pretty hard sometimes. But once you get used to playing and playing in front of people then it’s a little easier, but not really. You’ve got to be concentrating all the time on what’s going on.
TNV: You guys just started out just playing around here in South Dakota, right?
Wanbdi: There’s nowhere really to play here in SD so we started out small, like going to Nebraska, Iowa and surrounding areas and just started going from there.
TNV: What’s the most people you’ve played in front of?
Wanbdi: I think maybe 7,000. When we played with B.B. King there was way more, like 20,000 or something.
TNV: That’s a lot of people. What was it like being in front of 20,000 people?
Wanbdi: Pretty scary.
TNV: What goes through your mind?
Wanbdi: Um, just `I hope I don’t mess it up!’ That’s the only thing. Just pretty nervous about it….
TNV: Do people ever get surprised because you’re a woman playing the drums?
Wanbdi: Uh, yeah, I think they do sometimes. But I don’t really…I don’t really see a difference, I don’t really feel different from anybody else, being a girl or woman or whatever. I was raised to believe that it was no big deal. I could do whatever I want. It didn’t matter if I was a girl or not.
TNV: I love that. That’s great. You’re really lucky. A lot of women, a lot of young girls don’t get that kind of encouragement.
Wanbdi: Yeah, I’ve noticed that.
TNV: Has anybody ever said anything to you?
Wanbdi: In the beginning they used to try to — I got a lot of sexist remarks and stuff. I really don’t like to communicate with anybody because I don’t really like to hear anything — because it brings out a part of me, you know, I will say something. That’s why I tend to just stay away. I would rather just keep things flowing in a good way, in a healthy way instead of getting angry about something that somebody is gonna say. Because people say stupid things all the time and that will probably never change because the way society is.
TNV: Well hopefully there’s progress being made. You know, a little bit at a time. I really think you’re fortunate. I wonder why your Dad was different that way?
Wanbdi: I don’t know, he just, uh…a lot of the traditional things that were going on around the time when we were born, like AIM and all that kind of stuff, he just didn’t believe in making women stay home with the kids and, you know, things like that. He wasn’t like that. It kinda came out in the end in me and my brothers, too. They have a lot of respect. They listen to what I have to say. They don’t think of me as `Oh, she’s just a girl’…’Oh, you’re just my sister.’ They don’t think like that They think more of how we have the same opinion, the same way of thinking or whatever. We got that from our Dad and our Mom too — they shared everything together. So when it came time for us to play in a band it was easy for us to get along because we already had that.
TNV: That’s really cool.
Wanbdi: I think that that’s why a lot of people are the way they are. Because of their parents or because of the way that they were raised or whatever. I think that’s how they become how they are, you know, sexist or whatever…you know, `Oh, they’re second best because she’s a girl’ or `She can’t do that, she’s not good enough.’ Whatever! That kinda comes from being raised in this society. That’s all it is. I’ve been all over the country and been in Canada and everywhere and it’s the same, you hear the same questions: `Why are you playing?’ `I thought only guys played drums. How come you’re not playing something easy?
Wanbdi: Yeah, pretty lame. I don’t really understand it so I tend to stay away from things like that.
TNV: There are other women drummers out there.
Wanbdi: Yeah, there are a lot, actually. I’ve met a lot, seen a lot, too. Maybe people don’t notice [them]. That’s maybe why I don’t see it as being so special, because there are a lot of women drummers out there.
TNV: What do you like the most about being in the band?
Wanbdi: Just getting up and playing the music. It’s a lot of fun playing with my brothers, and traveling with them too. We have a lot of fun together and stuff. It’s just, pretty much the fun.
TNV: How do you feel about being looked at as a role model? And, if you’re going to be a role model, in which way do you want to be a role model? As a musician? As a healthy living person? As a traditional person? As a woman? Is there anything in there that really fits you, that you feel comfortable with?
Wanbdi: Probably just as an example that it doesn’t matter what you are, doesn’t matter what color you are, or what race you are, or if you re a girl or a boy. It doesn’t matter. You can do whatever you want.
That’s the only positive message I can think of. Because anything else, like religion and cultural stuff…I tend to stay away from things like that. I was raised to believe what I wanted to believe and what I thought. Instead of something being pushed on me like, `Oh, this is how it was’ or `Because you’re Indian….’ I wasn’t raised that way. I’d rather just play and get inspired. That’s what I enjoy doing the most.
TNV: You can provide a really good example for the girls.
Wanbdi: Yeah, well, that’s got to come from them, too. The way that I am and my brothers…we didn’t go to school, we were home schooled. So, we kinda have our own way of thinking. It seems like a lot of people after you talk to them after they go to school – they change and a lot of freedom that they had before is gone. I believe that before you even go to school you should already have your own mind. Think about things and have your own mind instead of having it altered or changed by anything going on in this country now.
TNV: A lot of people don’t have that kind of family support. They have to find it somewhere else. It’s natural to do that. People will look for what they need elsewhere if they don’t get it at home.
TNV: Just by your being out there you are providing a good role model for the kids. We have an eight year old daughter. It helps that you’re out there, and I can say `hey look, they’re playing rock and roll and they’re doing it in a way that’s cool and they’re doing it in a way that’s positive and as a family.’ I appreciate that. I just want to let you know I really appreciate that.
Wanbdi: Thanks. Yeah, Thanks.