RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked The World

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked The World - this powerful documentary about the role of Native Americans in contemporary music history — featuring some of the greatest music stars of our time — exposes a critical missing chapter, revealing how indigenous musicians helped shape the soundtracks of our lives and, through their contributions, influenced popular culture.
"Densely packed with information, this is a film that continually finds new things to say and new ways to say them." | Photo: Courtesy of Greg Laxton

Improvising as he played backing rhythms at a gig in the late 1950s, Link Wray created a piece of music that went on to become one of the most influential tunes in rock n' roll. One of the earliest pieces of music to use the power chord, and the first instrumental piece ever to be banned for fear that it would negatively influence youths, it would become a key influence on the likes of Jimmy Page and Iggy Pop. But although Rumble has become an inescapable part of music culture, its creator remained in the background. Most people know little about his influences - or that he was Shawnee and had grown up immersed in Native American musical traditions.

This documentary, which went under the radar on its 2017 release, sets out to illustrate the profound contribution of Native music to rock n' roll. The Rumble is only the most prominent example of it, and it's when directors Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana go back further to explore some of the music that preceded it that things get really interesting. It's difficult to listen to this and not be swayed towards their argument. Rock music emerges as a marvellous fusion of the indigenous traditions of two continents, only made more exuberant by repression, the music of resistance and rebellion from the outset.

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As well as exploring the roots of this music, Beinbridge and Maiorana look at its impact on developing US culture and what it meant to people who were seeing other aspects of their traditional culture obliterated. They also tell the stories of notable Native musicians, and though there is little direct comment on the way they were kept in the background by the music industry, the archive footage they use speaks for itself. The result is fascinating, because here is a side to music and culture that many viewers will be completely unaware of, or will have greatly underestimated.

Densely packed with information, this is a film that continually finds new things to say and new ways to say them. It's full of great music and Rumble is one of those tunes that's a gift to score designers, able to segue in and out as needed. The breadth of the subject covered opens up the field to other documentarians, raising many questions alongside the answers it provides and introducing stories which, whilst interesting in their short form, offer plenty of potential for further exploration. This is a must-see film for anyone who loves rock music or has an interest in the cultural history of America.

Reviewed on: 31 Jan 2018
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RUMBLE: The Indians Who Rocked The World packshot
The role of Native Americans in contemporary music history.

Director: Catherine Bainbridge

Year: 2017

Runtime: 103 minutes


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