Q&A: Sihasin discusses performance at SXSW Native American showcase

Cat Cardenas

Sihasin will perform at South By Southwest’s Native American Showcase. Brother and sister Clayson and Jeneda Benally previously performed as punk rock band Blackfire for over 20 years. Three years ago, they changed their group’s name to Sihasin, which means “hope” in the Navajo language. Sihasin’s show takes place March 21 at St. David’s Historic Sanctuary. The duo spoke with The Daily Texan for a Q&A. 

The Daily Texan: After performing as Blackfire, what prompted you to start Sihasin?

Jeneda Benally: The inspiration behind the group was hope. We’re probably one of the only music groups who have sued the United States government, but, long story short, we sued the forest service in order to protect children from the reclaimed wastewater being used on our sacred mountain in Arizona. We lost the case, and, for me, that was absolutely heartbreaking. I looked around at kids as young as 9 who weren’t able to find hope after that, so I had to shift my focus. I looked at what I was doing, and I knew I needed to invest in their future. Through our music, we can hopefully provide a sense of hope. 

DT: How does it feel to have a showcase dedicated to Native American musicians?

JB: When you go to South By Southwest, you see so many different groups represented, and we’re so glad we’re part of that. We hope that when people come to the showcase that they can recognize that our music is just as diverse. There aren’t that many differences between us; we’re all one people.

DT: How is your culture expressed in your music?

JB: We’re a minority today, and we want to bring our music to the masses. We hope we can help showcase the diversity within not only the United States but within indigenous tribes themselves. We’re all so different, but we have this common history, and, when you listen to our music, we want you to get a sense of who were are as a community and individuals. 

DT: How did your work with The Ramones influence your music?

JB: The Ramones gave us a lot of guidance early on; they kind of took us under their wing. Joey and CJ became a part of our family after we went to Austin to catch one of their shows. They gave us some advice as far as structuring our songs. The writing process for each of our songs is very different, but they gave us a basic formula that we still use. It’s pretty powerful to have such incredible mentors. 

DT: What do you love most about performing?

JB: We get to travel internationally and really see that music has no boundaries. The heartbeat of drums is a common language between people all over the world. It doesn’t matter who you are, but our music is about sharing together in an experience. 

DT: Why is music so important to you?

JB: Music allows us to express our culture and bring it to indigenous people and other people as well. Through our music, we can show people that our culture is still constantly growing. We’re still trying to express grief over hundreds of years of conflict, so our music was a way to talk about that conflict and make sure that our voices were heard.