As he grew up in middle-class America in the '60s, musician Paul LaRoche did not know the true story of his heritage. While he knew he was adopted, it wasn't until he was in his late 30s that the complete story of his past unfolded.
"My adoptive parents passed away in 1987," he recalls. "My wife and I were left with the task of going through the house, getting it ready to sell. My wife discovered information that was hidden for years. (After a lot of research), she was able to connect up ... to my Sioux origin. Eventually, a phone call was set up with one of my siblings. That led to an invitation to come out to the reservation."
On Thanksgiving Day 1993, LaRoche was happily reunited with a brother, sister, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews on the Lower Brule Sioux Indian reservation in South Dakota. The event changed the course of his life.
Prior to the reunion, LaRoche had retired from the music business after performing for 20-plus years in more than 30 different rock bands. "It was a series of ups and downs for 20 years. It was a difficult life and difficult career to survive in. I had given up--or at least I thought I had."
But LaRoche's relatives encouraged him to return to the music business. "We eventually moved back to the reservation.
Our new family realized we had a lot of valuable experience and had done a lot with music. Few people on the reservation had the opportunity to do this."
Brulé, LaRoche's new band, was formed in 1995. "I decided to use the name Brulé out of respect and recognition of my newfound family and culture. I had become a member of the Lower Brule Sioux tribe."
LaRoche began Brulé as a soloist, writing music and performing on piano and keyboards. But his daughter Nicole, a classically trained flutist, quickly joined him. LaRoche's son Shane, a guitarist, joined the group three years ago. Members have come and gone over the years, and latest member Moses Brings Plenty signed on a year ago. Moses plays traditional Native American drums. LaRoche's wife, Kathy, has managed the group from the start. To reflect all of the members, the band is now known as Brulé and AIRO (American Indian Rock Opera).
While allmusic.com puts Brulé and AIRO in the new age category, LaRoche says the group's music is different from new age. "Contemporary Native American is a new sound of music within our culture. We are pioneering one of the last musical frontiers."
LaRoche says he sometimes lacked inspiration for songwriting early in his career. "You have to have an experience at the high end or low end of the scale. It sets you in motion to be creative. ... I had a very positive and joyous occasion. I have pulled from what happened to us as my material."
It is LaRoche's intent to use his music to bridge the gap between cultures--"mainstream America and Native America." As one listens to his music, the fusion between Native American sounds and contemporary rock is clearly heard. Some songs blend traditional chanting and modern rock beats, while others mix traditional flute and modern keyboards.
But perhaps the more important bridge is revealed as you read some of the song titles. "And Justice for All," "Peace Is All Around Me" and "One World, One Nation" are songs on the group's The Collection album. LaRoche believes barriers between people are not the answer. "For those of us ... healing relations between our cultures, music is a soft way to carry that mission."
Brulé and AIRO have been successful in their mission. The group has sold more than 1 million CDs and have appeared on Regis and Kathie Lee, CNN WorldBeat and QVC. At the eighth annual Native American Music Awards in 2006, The Collection won Best Compilation, and AIRO won Group of the Year for Tatanka.
LaRoche has embraced his hidden heritage and has learned much from his culture. "I could have been taught to have nothing to do with the white man. But these are loving, kind, soft-spoken people. I was not taught to hate. I was taught to bring Native America out into the world. ... I found a very simple statement from the Lakota people. Mitakuye Oyasin means, 'We are all related.' It comes from the culture of our people. It's a wonderful philosophy and way to live."
Brulé and AIRO perform at 12:30 and 3 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 14, at the 35th Annual American Indian Arts and Craft Show and Sale at the Tucson Convention Center, 260 S. Church Ave. The performance is included with admission to the craft show and sale. Tickets are $5.50 for adults and free for children younger than 12. The craft show and sale--featuring antique and contemporary American Indian art and jewelry--takes place from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday, Jan. 12; and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 13, and Sunday, Jan. 14. For more information about Brulé and AIRO, visit brulerecords.com.