Tribe Vibe

Brulé brings colorful family show to Omaha

For almost two decades Brulé has offered enchanting, live musical performances influenced by rock, jazz, and most importantly Native American culture. The haunting flute melodies, thundering drums and powerful chanting, combined with dazzling traditional dances, showcase the elements of Lakota culture that influenced Brulé founder Paul LaRoche. More interesting than the head-spinning performances, however, is the story behind the music. Paul Summers was an adopted son and lived a happy childhood in small town southwestern Minnesota. He loved music and had been in bands since about age 17. He married his high school sweetheart, Kathy. They had two children, a daughter, Nicole, and a son, Shane, who grew up loving music like their father. When Paul was 38 he suffered a life-changing tragedy — both of his adoptive parents died. When cleaning out her in-laws’ house, Kathy discovered a note that had been tucked away for years. The letter contained information about Paul’s adoption. Kathy began a secret search to locate her husband’s birth parents. Five years later, Paul was ready to meet them. “Before my parents passed away, I had absolutely no desire to want to seek out another family,” LaRoche says, referring to his biological family. “I knew I was adopted, I just didn’t know I was Native American … When Kathy found this letter, I think she knew I wasn’t gonna be interested. It took about five years for me before it was right. After both [adoptive] parents had been [gone] for five years, I was ready.” LaRoche grew up thinking he was French Canadian, but to his surprise, he was a member of the Lower Brulé Lakota tribe, one of the seven bands of the Lakota nation. Through a very gradual process, he started to assimilate into his new culture. He eventually took the family name, LaRoche, as did his son and daughter. His love of music was a harmonious fit with this newfound heritage, and the band Brulé was born with daughter Nicole on flute and son Shane on guitar. LaRoche is careful about which elements he picks for Brulé performances for several reasons. The first is his tremendous respect for his Lakota background, and the desire to be taken as a serious member of the tribe as he attempts to reconnect with his family. “There are stages,” he says. “Stage one is almost disbelief. At first you go ‘Wow, is this really true? Is this really who I am?’ As you accept that role, you have to be careful. If you jump in too deep, too fast, you can be perceived as being artificial … From outside you’re being artificial and from inside you’re a wannabe … I came back to the reservation almost 17 years ago, and for that 17 years, I’ve had to kind of take it step by step. I’m just careful how I present myself and how I refer to myself.” LaRoche says he has avoided several music-business landmines, such as passing on a recording contract with a New York City music producer who wanted to turn Brulé into a “Native American KISS.” “I would say that we’ve taken the high road but it’s the long route. In terms of the business part of this, and the financial part, I’m certain that over the years, we’ve passed up the opportunity to make a quick buck.” The high road has taken Brulé to Branson, Missouri, for a 38-week stay at the RDF TV Theater. RFD TV is a cable network targeted toward rural America. It decided Native America, and therefore Brulé, was an important part of its programming. While Brulé toured extensively in its roughly 17-year history, an extended stay at one venue is new to the group. “The first thing I would say is you tighten up your show — A LOT,” LaRoche says with a laugh the morning before Brulé’s 200th show in Branson. “It’s a well-oiled machine by about halfway through the run. We’ve never had this polished of a show before. The byproduct is that, now when someone comes to see the show, they’re seeing a show that’s quite a few notches up from before we came to Branson.” That well-oiled machine of contemporary Native American music rolls to Omaha next, a city LaRoche refers to as a second home because of the many shows his group played here in the past. After Omaha, Brulé has an exciting 2011 planned, including a possible trip to Europe, but starting with a float in the Tournament of Roses Parade. “Imagine the first day we step on the reservation, meeting our new family, and then 17 years later, we’re representing Native America in the Tournament of Roses Parade,” LaRoche says. “ I couldn’t have imagined it would turn out like this.” Brulé performs w/ AIRO Saturday, Dec. 11, at the Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St., at 8 p.m. Tickets are $33-$38 and available via 345.0606 or at ticketomaha.org.

posted at 11:39 am
on Wednesday, December 08th, 2010

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