MTV's 'Rebel Music' stays close to home with Native American activists

LOS ANGELES — When MTV's “Rebel Music” debuted last year, the globe-trotting documentary series searched out passionate young artists driving change in hot spots including Egypt and Afghanistan.

This time around, it stays close to home with Native American activists. There's Frank Waln, a hip-hop artist seeking to protect the environment and his heritage, and pop musician Inez Jasper, demanding attention for women's rights and safe harbor from violence.

Musicians Nataanii Means, son of American Indian Movement activist Russell Means, and Mike Clifford, working together to foster hope and fight suicide among Native American youngsters, also are featured in the series, debuting at 3 p.m. Thursday on MTV's Facebook page.

“The music is my shield and my weapon,” Waln, a Sioux Indian from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, says with touching determination in the film.

“Rebel Music: Native America” will air later this week and next on channels including MTV2 and mtvU, and will be made available free for downloading or streaming on iTunes, Hulu and other platforms. It's the first long-form MTV program to debut on Facebook, the network said.

The episode — premiering well before season two begins next year in order to coincide with Native American Heritage Month — surprised even the executive behind it.

“I have never been so moved and inspired as I was by this production,” said Nusrat Durrani, general manager of MTV World and creator of the “Rebel Music” series. “As soon as we started the research, we knew we have a very compelling story right here in our own backyard.”

The film does not shrink from touching on the harsh realities Native Americans face, including suicide and poverty rates greater than the general U.S. population, he said. But that is “baseline,” as Durrani put it.

“What we're trying to tell here is, ‘Look at these young people and how they're overcoming their own circumstances and how they're empowering themselves to (bring) change,'” he said.

Native American filmmaker Billy Luther, the documentary's co-director, found the young artists to be as intrepid as they are impressive: One started making beats on an old Casio, he said, and others searched out in the community what they lacked at home.

“These kids aren't necessarily victimized or complaining about what they don't have. They're using all their resources to make the change and create the art they want to,” Luther said.

The scope of their artistry also proves an eye-opener.

“Usually when you think of native music, you think of drums and flutes,” the filmmaker said. “You don't necessarily think of native artists or musicians doing hip-hop, punk or country, but they're out there. ... I think this is going to change what people think of in native music.”

The response to a preview posted online has been heartening, Durrani and Luther said, with more than 1.5 million views.

“Rebel Music” will return in March, featuring stories from Iran, Myanmar, Senegal, Turkey and Venezuela, and Durrani is eager for viewers to discover it and, he said, be heartened.

“Here's another way of looking at the world,” he said. “The world is not only steeped in negativity and conflict. ... There are beautiful stories, too, stories that will inspire us and give us hope.”

Native American musicians and activists Mike Cliff, left, Frank Waln, Inez Jasper and Nataanii Means record music during MTV World's documentary series "Rebel Music: Native America." ASSOCIATED PRESS/MTV WORLD
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