R. Carlos Nakai

Native American Flute Songs


To become the world’s premier Native American flutist, R. Carlos Nakai had to rely more on research and innovation and less on his Navajo-Ute heritage. While the Diné had a strong flute-playing tradition, it was lost when they migrated from the Northwest Plains of Canada to the Southwest over five centuries ago. While Nakai may not have been “born to the flute,” it was curiosity about his heritage that led him to it.

During the late 1960s while researching American Indian music and traditional instruments, the wooden flute piqued Nakai’s interest, but it wasn’t until 1972 that he took it up seriously. Prior to that Nakai had devoted his musical energies to classical training on the cornet and trumpet.

In his usual determination to have a thorough knowledge of the instrument, Nakai crafted his own. He later learned from a flute-making teacher that rather than the oak Nakai was using, cedar is the only wood that works well. He also discovered that when it comes to flute making, there are no standard dimensions. The finger holes and air column are based on hand and finger measurements and are never the same. As a result, each flute has a different sound and pitch, which makes the tonality of the instruments random. Nakai views each flute less as a musical instrument than “as a sound sculpture – a piece of art that also creates sound.”

Part of Nakai’s philosophy is to ensure that the native flute does not become a “museum piece” of a bygone culture. Through his original compositions and other musical collaborations, Nakai intends to show the instrument’s versatility and capabilities.

Over the past three decades, Nakai has melded his classical training with his expertise on the cedar flute to form a complex, sophisticated sound that not only reveals the flute’s uniqueness, but covers the spectrum of musical genres: from devotional meditations to jazz ensembles to full symphonic works. Additionally, Nakai creates new sounds for the flute using electronic technology such as synthesizers and digital delay.

A native Arizonan, Nakai’s southwestern surroundings as well as his culture, heavily influence his work. He points out “A lot of what I’ve been taught culturally, comes from an awareness of the environment… How I feel is based on my impressions of being in certain spaces at certain times. Thinking back…on personal tribal stories and the history of my culture figures into how I organize my music.”

Available Recordings

R. Carlos Nakai - Inner Voices - Canyon CD

Product No. 4002-702-113


Inner Voices presents the haunting flute melodies of R. Carlos Nakai with the richness of a string ensemble in new arrangements of Nakai's melodies. The evocative power of the traditional flute is enhanced by the lush harmonies of violin, viola, cell and double bass in arrangement by two-time Grammy Award winner, Billy Williams. Williams’ arrangements create a tranquil soundscape for the mellow tone of Nakai’s flute that takes the listener on a meditative and peaceful journey into the inner world of memory and dreams. The ten songs include eight melodies drawn from earlier albums plus a luminescent rendition of the eternally popular Amazing Grace. A haunting solo for bass traditional flute rounds out the album.

TRACKS: Click below to listen.
1. Inner Voices (8:51)
2. Canyon Reverie (5:57)
3. Winter Solstice (4:33)
4. 12/20/82 Song (3:05)
5. Amazing Grace (3:46)
6. Daybreak Vision (7:12)
7. Kokopelli Wind (5:44)
8. Songs for the Morning Star (4:22)
9. Catfish Muse (10:36)
10. Woodsong C (2:55)

Total Time: 57:56

Mythic Dreamer - R. Carlos Nakai- Canyon CD

Product No. 4020-060-813


This collection of traditional and new melodies for solo Native American flute continues R. Carlos Nakai's exploration of this expressive instrument. Returning to traditional roots, he presents eleven arrangements of Zuni, Lakota, Kiowa and Cheyenne melodies along with seven original compositions and a work by composer by James DeMars. Nakai beautifully demonstrates the haunting simplicity and evocative magic of the traditional flute.

TRACKS: Click below to listen.
1. Corn Grinding Song (2:32)
2. The World How Fair (3:19)
3. See the Rainbows (3:20)
4. Fox Song (2:10)
5. Elk Dreamer's Song (2:52)
6. The Great Mystery Hears Me (2:04)
7. Summer Solstice (2:09)
8. Antelope Song (3:38)
9. Begging Song (1:22)
10. Victory Song (1:37)
11. Eagle Flute Song (4:48)
12. Eagles Gathering (3:52)
13. Silver Salmon Bear (2:47)
14. Rocks and Rills (4:23)
15. Coyote Wind (3:42)
16. Swallows and Night Hawks (4:29)
17. Inner Voices (6:19)
18. Lake That Speaks (3:35)

Total Time: 60:26

R. Carlos Nakai - Emergence - Canyon CD

Product No. 4020-060-913


The best representation of R. Carlos Nakai's concert performance for the solo cedar flute beginning with renditions of traditional melodies from the Plains and Nakai's own works in the traditional style. Closes with an ethereal rendition of "Amazing Grace".

TRACKS: Click below to listen.
1. Dreamer's Chant (2:03)
2. Solstice Prayer (2:01)
3. Atoká, Atoká(1:57)
4. Whirlwinds Dancing (3:40)
5. Red-Tailed Hawks (3:39)
6. Coyote Rainbows (5:58)
7. Saguaro Sunsets (10:29)
8. The Young Old Warrior (3:27)
9. Red Streaking Into The Water (3:44)
10. Willow People (3:37)
Songs of the Rainbow World
11. Black World (3:40)
12. Blue-Green World (4:06)
13. Yellow-White World (3:18)
14. Rainbow World (5:45)
15. Amazing Grace (2:19)

Total Time: 59:55

Canyon Trilogy - R. Carlos Nakai- Canyon CD

Product No. 4020-061-013


Using digital technology, R. Carlos Nakai creates the sound of the cedar flute echoing in the canyons and valleys of the vast Southwest. His seventeen free flowing compositions soothe the spirit and carry the listener to the far realms of the imagination. Awarded a certified Gold Records in 1998 ~ the first ever awarded for a Native American music album.

TRACKS: Click below to listen.
I. Dawn's Mirage
1. Song For The Morning Star (4:07)
2. Daybreak Vision (1:44)
3. Ancestral Home (4:44)
4. Echoes Of Time (3:43)
5. Inward Journey (3:04)
II. Dreamscapes
6. Creation Chant (3:03)
7. Canyon People (4:27)
8. Turquoise World (4:11)
9. Cleft In The Sky (3:02)
10. Spiral Passage (3:12)
11. World Of Rainbows (3:37)
III. Resonance
12. Waking Song (3:02)
13. The Sacred Reed (2:43)
14. Kokopelli Wind (4:07)
15. Departure (3:25)
16. Into The Maze (3:40)
17. Homage To The Ancient Ones (1:45)

Total Time: 58:48