Oklahoma ‘Performers’ work on trailblazing Cherokee-language album


Cherokee pop-soul singer Austin Markham was among the recording artists who contributed a song to the new Cherokee-language album "Anvdvnelisgi," which translates to "Performers" in English.

Austin Markham’s high, clear voice still soars over a subtle saxophone, smooth jams and soft finger snaps on the new version of his original song “Gon’ Be Alright.”  

But the pop-soul singer’s vocals hit much differently when he’s crooning in Cherokee.  

“The English lyrics are out there. … But we actually changed the song several times, just making sure that this translation was as accurate as possible. That was our main focus was the purity of the language,” said Markham, a Nashville, Tennessee-based singer-songwriter who hails from Vinita.  

“To be able to do this project was super humbling, and getting to be a part of preserving the Cherokee language was an immense honor.” 

Markham is one of 12 Cherokee musicians from Oklahoma who contributed to the trailblazing album ᎠᏅᏛᏁᎵᏍᎩ,” or “Anvdvnelisgi,” a contemporary compilation of original music performed entirely in their tribe’s language.  

An award-winning Tulsa-based Cherokee filmmaker, Jeremy Charles produced the new Cherokee-language album "Anvdvnelisgi," which translates to "Performers" in English.

Pronounced “Ah Nuh Duh Nay Lees Gi,” “Anvdvnelisgi” translates to “Performers” in English. Released last month on Tulsa-based nonprofit label Horton Records, the album features performers working in a wide array of genres, from metal and hip-hop to folk and reggae.  

“Really, it’s about inspiration (and) showing people what’s possible, because when I first started with this idea, I think there was a lot of, ‘Well, I don’t know.’ You can’t imagine what you haven’t heard before or seen. … That’s kind of the purpose of the album,'” said Jeremy Charles, the Cherokee Nation citizen who produced the project. 

“Very, very few original popular genre songs have been recorded in the Cherokee language, so it’s really new. I’m friends with lots of fluent speakers … and to watch their reactions to it is very inspiring to me because they see the potential.” 

Monica Taylor & Her Red Dirt Ramblers performs on the stage Thursday, July 14, 2022, in the Pastures of Plenty during WoodyFest 2022 in Okemah. Taylor and her band are all from Oklahoma.

What inspired the new Cherokee-language album?  

Based in Tulsa, Charles is best known as a filmmaker: He is the award-winning co-creator, director and producer for the 13-time regional Emmy-winning docuseries “Osiyo, Voices of the Cherokee People,” creator of the Cherokee-language animated series “Inage’i (In The Woods)” and the 2021 winner of the inaugural Best Indigenous Short prize at Oklahoma City’s deadCenter Film Festival for his Cherokee-language thriller “Totsu (Redbird).” 

“My career as a filmmaker is directly tied to music: I made my name shooting bands, concerts, promo materials, magazine editorials, album art,” Charles told The Oklahoman. 

“It’s a powerful medium to me. Other than film, it’s, to me, the most powerful way to inspire people. You can really change things with music and film. You can change the world.” 

If the Cherokee Nation is going to preserve its language, that change can’t come soon enough. 

“An Indigenous language is lost every two weeks around the world. With less than 2,000 living fluent Cherokee speakers, we are looking for ways to keep our language current and accessible,” said Howard Paden, executive director of the Cherokee Nation Language Department, in an email.  

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