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Northern Arapaho winner of the Wyoming Songwriter Competition talks about the land that inspires him

A musician performs on stage with an acoustic guitar while standing in front of a microphone.
Jake Hoffman
Christian Wallowing Bull (Northern Arapaho) performing at the Spotlight Lounge in Casper, WY.

Last fall, the Wyoming Singer-Songwriter Competition in Ten Sleep awarded Christian WallowingBull first prize. This year, the Northern Arapaho musician has released a music video of his single, "Machine," a collaboration with artist Fiadh Vincent, and is working on a new album. Wyoming Public Radio's Taylar Stagner sat down with Wallowing Bull to talk about what inspires him.

Christian Wallowing Bull: I was about 15 years old when I first picked up the acoustic guitar. I actually originally started writing lyrics when I was a few years younger and I was inspired by an Indigenous artist, hip hop artist, known as Superman. And I was influenced heavily by his writing and initially wanted to be a hip-hop artist as well. But I fell in love with acoustic guitar and strings and when I picked up guitar, [it] naturally kind of flowed into writing more singer-songwriter, folk, bluesy type music.

Taylar Stagner: Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with being Northern Arapaho and how that is baked into songs that you're writing the lyrics that you compose?

CW: Music has always been inspired by the land itself, representing the Indigenous people. My heart always has been to do that, specifically Northern Arapaho that is my tribe, being a representative because there's not a lot of artists that I know personally, who are in this specific genre of a more folk, bluesy singer-songwriter genre. Since I started putting music out as a solo musician, I've always wanted to incorporate the roots of Northern Arapaho people in the music.

And that goes along with my personal story. As someone who's grown up on an Indian reservation. I've always wanted to kind of tell my own story of like, hardships and things that I've been through that also capture the grander picture of Native people and Indigenous people in this Native land.

TS: You said you wanted to focus on land, and I was curious how, since you're in and around the Dubois area. I was curious if the landscapes there, if the mountains all that, is that a source of inspiration?

CW: The land throughout Wyoming for sure. I mean, I've always been inspired by the ranges, the valleys, I mean, the nature, you know, in all seasons, the power of nature that we see and experience in Wyoming is incredible. And for me to be closer to the roots of my people in this native land. It's always been inspirational to me, especially in a place like Dubois. But just in general, Wyoming itself from corner to corner. It's a beautiful territory. And as always, for me, I feel like the music that I play, not only the lyrics that I write, but the music I play kind of reflects my interpretation of the beauty of Wyoming.

TS: So, can you tell me a little bit about the Wyoming Singer-Songwriter Competition, because you won, and I would love to hear a little bit more about that experience going into it?

CW: The Wyoming Singer-Songwriters competition was incredible. I had the honor of performing on stage alongside I believe it was 49 contestants total. Extremely humbled to play along with so many incredible artists. And to come out on top was really amazing for me, not only because I worked so long, you know, as a solo artist, and put so much work for years into writing music, to be recognized as a decent singer-songwriter. I also was really humbled by the fact that I was a representative of Northern Arapaho people, in bringing light to the reservation, bringing light to the Indigenous people in this Indigenous territory, to be able to be on a stage alongside so many other people, as a representative in Wyoming was it was unlike anything else I've ever experienced in my life.

TS: So can you tell me a little bit about the single "Machine?" Just what you thought while writing it? In its place in the album, can you tell me a little bit about what inspired it?

CW: Yeah, so towards the end of last year, I met with my partner, her name is Fiadh, she is an artist that is just now debuting with this single "Machine." It is the first-ever collaboration project that I've ever done myself, where I've collaborated with another artist. I've been a solo artist for a few years now. And this is the very first time that I've ever worked on a project that involved another artist.

At the beginning of 2022, I was able to release Machine. Along with a single, Fiadh and I shot a music video together and she is the main subject of the video. The inspiration behind the song was just, I had this idea kind of bouncing off the wall of, it's kind of more of like a heartbreak indie song, during the winter months, and I wrote the song, within just a couple hours at a kitchen table.

TS: Is there anything about producing the work that you do during the pandemic that was particularly hard, insightful, exciting?

CW: The pandemic for me was probably one of the biggest inspirations into going into my artistic space, because, you know, the rest of the world was having to shut themselves inside their homes. Of course, it's, you know, from my own perspective, sometimes I do find myself maybe backing off a little bit from insecurities of like, I'm not necessarily telling the entire narrative of like, all Indigenous people in North America. And I can only tell the stories, you know, from my point of view, as far as like the life that I grew up in and understanding the situations that I've been through. I've been through hard things, but you know, if I can do it, maybe someone who hears this music can do it. So for me, it's always been more of like, being able to inspire others.

So, I would say it came more naturally when it came to not being just about me, but being about others. As a young Indigenous man being inspired by the artists, other Indigenous artists who kind of lifted me up and came from a reservation. That has always been a big inspiration for me to be able to see Indigenous people rise up.

Taylar Dawn Stagner is a central Wyoming rural and tribal reporter for Wyoming Public Radio. She has degrees in American Studies, a discipline that interrogates the history and culture of America. She was a Native American Journalist Association Fellow in 2019, and won an Edward R. Murrow Award for her Modern West podcast episode about drag queens in rural spaces in 2021. Stagner is Arapaho and Shoshone.
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