The Sound of Navajo Country

Music, Language, and Diné Belonging

By Kristina M. Jacobsen

200 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 18 halftones, 4 maps, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3186-8
    Published: March 2017
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-3185-1
    Published: March 2017
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-3187-5
    Published: February 2017
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4740-9
    Published: February 2017

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Awards & distinctions

2018 Woody Guthrie Award, International Association for the Study of Popular Music-US Branch

In this ethnography of Navajo (Diné) popular music culture, Kristina M. Jacobsen examines questions of Indigenous identity and performance by focusing on the surprising and vibrant Navajo country music scene. Through multiple first-person accounts, Jacobsen illuminates country music’s connections to the Indigenous politics of language and belonging, examining through the lens of music both the politics of difference and many internal distinctions Diné make among themselves and their fellow Navajo citizens.

As the second largest tribe in the United States, the Navajo have often been portrayed as a singular and monolithic entity. Using her experience as a singer, lap steel player, and Navajo language learner, Jacobsen challenges this notion, showing the ways Navajos distinguish themselves from one another through musical taste, linguistic abilities, geographic location, physical appearance, degree of Navajo or Indian blood, and class affiliations. By linking cultural anthropology to ethnomusicology, linguistic anthropology, and critical Indigenous studies, Jacobsen shows how Navajo poetics and politics offer important insights into the politics of Indigeneity in Native North America, highlighting the complex ways that identities are negotiated in multiple, often contradictory, spheres.

About the Author

Kristina M. Jacobsen is associate professor of music and anthropology (ethnology) at the University of New Mexico. She also cofacilitates the UNM honky-tonk ensemble, is a touring singer/songwriter, and fronts the all-girl honky-tonk band Merlettes. All author proceeds from the sale of this book will be donated to the Navajo Nation Museum.
For more information about Kristina M. Jacobsen, visit the Author Page.


"Jacobsen is absolutely correct that we should pay more attention to the many forms and uses of voice, including but not limited to music and singing, in analyzing ascriptions and avowals of identity and belonging."—Anthropology Review Database

“This book, grappling with the face-to-face interactions of music making, offers a robust framework for considering how Navajo musicians perform and express membership within their community through the lens of country music performance practice. . . . An important contribution to country music scholarship, expanding the geo-cultural boundaries of country music discourse, and indeed broadening our understanding of the genre’s narrative and cultural identity.”—Journal of the Society for American Music

“One can ‘hear’ Navajo voices threading throughout Kristina Jacobsen’s The Sound of Navajo Country. . . . [The book] should be of interest to students, teachers, and researchers of vocal anthropology, popular music, the social construction of genre, and the contemporary expressive practices of indigenous peoples. It is also a fine teaching instrument for debunking the myth that Native American expressive practices are rooted only in the distant past.”—Ethnomusicology

“This is deep ethnography. Kristina M. Jacobsen illustrates the many ways Navajos think about, talk about, and perform membership in their community through the lens of country music. An engaging and important work.”--David Samuels, New York University

“Kristina M. Jacobsen has given us an ear-opening exploration of how the socio-acoustic ideologies and practices of the voice inflect the politics of difference in Navajo country. Speaking and singing, generations and genres, places and P.A. systems, blood and belonging all blend together in this illuminating ethnography of country music as Navajo music. Jacobsen’s seamless integration of linguistic anthropology, ethnomusicology, and sociocultural anthropology should be an inspiration to all ethnographers.”--Richard Bauman, Indiana University

The Sound of Navajo Country is an insightful examination of current issues in Indigenous cultural politics. Jacobsen’s investigation of voice and language in country music and other dimensions of expressive culture in the Navajo Nation illuminates the nuances of identity and language politics and the constant negotiation of authenticity. The book’s focus on a contemporary, rather than ‘traditionally cultural,’ genre of music highlights the lived reality of modern Navajo life while offering a new and refreshing look at contemporary Navajo culture.”--Kerry Frances Thompson (Diné), Northern Arizona University