“Indian girl use all your heart, or they’ll eat it raw, while singing la la la la” – Janel Munoa, NDN Girl
Janel Munoa began singing as a little girl, howling through the dark forests at the edge of her tribe’s Reservation in Southern California. As she grew up, Janel’s Luiseño Indian howls took on layers of inspiration from her brother’s punk tapes and her parents’ record collection, forming into a full-throated sound that embraces the overlapping worlds of rock, soul, blues and hip-hop.
Moving from the woods of California to a forest in Western Massachusetts, Janel and her husband and creative partner, Alex Vazquez, holed up in a cabin to write songs. “Howls from Deep in the Woods,” Janel’s debut album, was released in the fall of 2017 on the pair’s indie label, Deep Red Records. “We chose that album title because each song felt like a howl,” says Janel, “like a coyote calling out to like-minded individuals, to people who might be drawn to the world we created.”
“Much of my music deals with a sense of personal territory and standing up for it, being proud, rising up and not letting anything or anyone violate your boundaries. After I finished the record, I realized how much that was a theme growing up in a tribe in American culture where you have to continuously reinforce boundaries and land rights, to reinforce a sense of identity, to protect and honor and celebrate that. That sense of my own personal journey reflected the larger culture I grew up in.”
The year it was released, “Howls” received two Native American Music Award nominations: Best Rock Recording and New or Debut Artist of the Year. At the ceremony, Janel was honored to present a tribute to one of her heroes, the Native American activist and poet John Trudell. Recently, the Indigenous Music Awards announced that Janel has been nominated in the category of 2019's Best New Artist. The awards ceremony will take place on May 17 in Winnipeg, Canada.
Janel and Alex are currently in the mixing stage of another full-length album, “The Topanga Sessions,” a more wild and minimalistic record that Janel describes as “Tom Waits dancing with Fiona Apple.”
The pair have reimagined older material from when Janel lived in Topanga Canyon, CA and worked with producer and songwriter Frank Gryner (Rob Zombie, A Perfect Circle, L7). The new album will be released mid 2019.
“There are a lot of animal symbols in “The Topanga Sessions”. It’s about dealing with a consumerism culture where there’s a poachers’ mentality, where you don’t use the whole animal when you hunt it. Another theme is my tribe dealing with the Spanish coming over and creating the Missions. They changed how the land was distributed and it changed the way the Native people interacted with the land, got food and thrived. The songs are about me looking out onto American culture and seeing the differences between that and being indigenous, and how those two worlds can clash.”
Janel is propelled live by a tight backing band that includes some of the regions most sought after session musicians. A formidable presence onstage, Janel uses her dark-timbered voice to draw the audience into her world of raw musical ceremony.