Born c. 1957 in Cook, MN; affiliated with the Anishinabe tribe; married; children: two. Education: Graduated from Mesabi Community College with degree in public service, 1979; attended the University of Colorado at Boulder; completed undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota, Bachelor of Arts in American Indian studies, 1982. Addresses: Home--Keith Secola, P.O. Box 1595, Tempe, AZ 85280, phone: (480) 303-0655, e-mail: Website--Keith Secola Official Website:

Dubbed by critics both "the Neil Young of the Native rock world" and "the Native Bruce Springsteen," Keith Secola has in many people's viewpoints achieved legendary status for his "NDN Kars" ("Indian Cars"), a popular song that is frequently considered a Native American anthem. Secola has released five well-received independent CDs since the early 1990s, and he has garnered three Native American Music Awards.

Secola grew up in a large family in Parkville, a town in the Iron Range region of northern Minnesota. Secola's mother was Anishinabe, a tribe known as Ojibwe in Canada and Chippewa in the United States, and his father was a first-generation Italian immigrant. Secola grew up close to the Bois Fort Reservation amid Native and Italian families. Secola and his four sisters formed a band when they were young, imagining that they were performing for large audiences. Every child in Secola's family, which also included another brother, was encouraged to learn music, and they all played an instrument in the Mountain Iron High School band. Secola has the distinction of breaking his leg during one memorable marching event. Secola originally played the trombone, but he was also interested in guitar, playing old guitars his mother brought home from yard sales. After finishing high school, he finally got his first new guitar, a Gibson Marauder, at age 18. He tried his hand at songwriting and joined a folk and rock cover band called the Schwartz Brothers. At this time, during the late 1970s, Secola attended Mesabi Community College, where he earned a degree in public service in 1979.

Secola moved to Colorado and attended the University of Colorado at Boulder. It was in Colorado that he met his future wife. He then returned to Minnesota and completed his degree in American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota in 1982. Upon completing his degree, Secola moved to Tempe, Arizona, where he worked for the Indian Education Resource Center from 1984 to 1993.

Throughout his college years and while working in Arizona, Secola played in various bands, though he never imagined that he would someday play professionally. It was during this period in the early 1980s that he penned his now legendary song "NDN Kars," an anthemic song about the rundown cars that cruise the reservations. The song was adopted at a protest rally in 1988 and was used in Dance Me Outside, a Canadian film by Norman Jewison. Sung with tongue-in-cheek humor, a version of "NDN Kars" appears on all of Secola's CDs. Jim Purdy summarized in the Arizona Daily Star, "[The cars are] old, worn-down and tired, but they've got spirit...." According to Natalie Y. Moore in the Minnesota Pioneer Press, the song also decries police brutality. According to Moore, Secola himself maintained that the song concerns "the richness of being poor." However one interprets "NDN Kars," the song's enduring appeal helped cement Secola's status as a cult hero.

In 1990 Secola felt ready to pursue his musical interests full time, so he resigned from the Indian Resource Center. By this time, he had joined the Wild Band of Indians, a group that signed a record deal with a German label. Secola released his debut CD, Circle, with the Wild Band of Indians in 1992. Following the CD release, the band toured Europe from 1993 to 1998, performing in Vienna, Berlin, London, and Amsterdam, among other cities.

As Secola developed his musical style he drew upon a variety of influences, most notably rock, blues, folk, reggae, world beat, as well as his native Anishinabe heritage. In 1997 the band released a second CD, Wild Band of Indians, and the band's third CD, Fingermonkey, followed in 2000. On each CD Secola's unique fusion of various influences combined with his bent toward addressing social and political issues. He has termed his brand of music "Alter-Native," as well as "Native Americana," which he described in the Duluth News Tribune as "representing the diverse roots of American music that includes the traditional and contemporary sounds and expressions of the indigenous people."

While his recording output remained slim, Secola toured extensively throughout the United States, playing with such national acts as David Bowie, the Indigo Girls, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and the Neville Brothers. His energetic live performances earned recognition among independent record fans, but he had yet to achieve the crossover recognition of a mainstream artist. It was not until 2000 that the Recording Academy initiated a Grammy Award category for Best Native American Music Album. Although the Grammy nod to Native American music helped bolster the recognition of Native American musicians, many felt the category narrowly confined Native American music to traditional chant forms. Secola maintained in Joshua Brockman's New York Times article, "We're more than beads and feathers; so is our music." Regardless of mainstream tastes, Secola and his band have long received positive recognition from the Native American Music Awards, known as the Nammys. First begun in 1998, the Nammys celebrate and recognize the many forms and artists of Native American music. Secola has received numerous nominations and has won three Nammys, including Best Independent Recording for Fingermonkey, 2000; Best Instrumental Recording for the movie soundtrack Homeland, 2001; and Best Blues/Jazz Recording for Kokopelli Blues, 2002.

Secola and the Wild Band of Indians earned the opportunity to play before a large international audience when they were asked to perform on the main stage at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Additionally, Secola was the musical director for a feature performance at the Olympics as part of the Navajo 2002 Festival of Nations stage. The performance combined the talents of Native Americans from many different tribes. Secola explained in a press release available through his website, "I envision the musical production as a Native American rock opera, what I call 'Native Americana' music or 'Tribadelic.' [This music represents] the diverse roots of American music that includes the traditional and contemporary sounds and expressions of the indigenous people. It's the type of musical theater I've performed in my live shows across the U.S. and overseas for the past ten years. The 'opera' will incorporate singing, music, storytelling, Powwow, and traditional dance."

Secola's independent label, Akina, is an Ojibwe word that translates as "we embrace all," a fitting description for Secola's music and what he aims to achieve through his work. In late 2002 Secola told V. Paul Virtucio in the Duluth News Tribune, "We offer a message of hope and reality. For me, in this last year, I've stepped it up quite a bit to make beautiful music in such diverse times. I think that as a musician, it's about the only thing we can do, to make music beautifully."

by Elizabeth Henry

Keith Secola's Career

Performed with band the Schwartz Brothers in Minnesota, 1970s; joined group Wild Band of Indians in Arizona; released first CD, Circle, 1992; group recorded and toured Europe, 1993-98; released Wild Band of Indians, 1997; released Fingermonkey, 2000; released Homeland, soundtrack for PBS documentary, 2001; released three-song EP Kokopelli Blues, 2002; performed with Wild Band of Indians at the main stage, Winter Olympics, Salt Lake City, UT, 2002.

Keith Secola's Awards

Native American Music Awards, Best Independent Recording for Fingermonkey, 2000; Best Instrumental Recording for Homeland, 2001; Best Blues/Jazz Recording for Kokopelli Blues, 2002.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 15 years ago

Hi Beno, I am teaching again at an alternative school in Virginia. I have several native students and I always mention that I was your teacher. Ive shown them your website. Of course, they don't believe me when I tell them that I taught you everything that you know about music ha-ha). It's nice to see all the success that you're having in the music industry. Keep up the good work. Roger Koski

about 16 years ago

Hey there... It was really great to see you in Oneida Wisconsin. My daughter Hattie and I really enjoyed the music.