“Rumble” shines a spotlight on both Indigenous rock history and cultural preservation. Rezolution Pictures’s film uses the name of Link Wray’s instrumental song, inventive for its use of the power cord and amp distortion. Some stations in the U.S. even banned the song for allegedly promoting delinquency. “Rumble” creates a clear throughline of the native influence throughout American and Canadian music history. From blues, jazz, folk music, rock‘n’roll, and rap, the influences have remained strong throughout the decades. The film recently recieved a new screening, six years after release, at the Indigenous Heritage Film Festival in Rockport, MA, to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
The film’s strongest moments came from examining Indigenous music as inherently anti-colonial rebellion. The Northern Paiute Ghost Dance gets directly tied to pre-blues music, described by Guy Davis as, “ … the dance that would make Native Americans invulnerable to the bullets of the white man so that they could rise from the restorations to kill off their oppressors.” Charley Patton’s style of drumming on his guitar responds to white plantation owners banning the use of the drum as, “an insurrectionary instrument.”
In the same section, “Rumble” discusses the colonial history between the mix of Black and Native cultures. Due to the brutal enslavement and separation practices of the 1700s, mixed families and cultures soon emerged. The documentary explains a Native family receiving the label of “Black” by the U.S. government prevented many from legally reclaiming the land taken from them. The extensive history of genocidal tactics by the U.S. government makes these musicians asserting their identity even more powerful.
In an illustrative scene early on, musician Pura Fé listens to a Charley Patton record and finds in specific beats and his vocals the Indigenous influences in the song. Earlier scenes describe singing as essential to many Native social gatherings, and this scene perfectly demonstrates the communicative process stretching as far as nearly 90 years. These genres represent collaborations between Black and Indigenous cultures. The Indigenous heritage of multiple musicians from Patton to Jimi Hendrix always plays an integral not incidental role in their music-making and performances. As Musician Derek Trucks describes Hendrix’s heritage, “ … none of it is diluted. He’s more powerful because of it.”
The second half retains the theme of collaboration and perseverance through censorship. The focus shifts to Indigenous artists working with white rock musicians: Johnny Cash and Peter La Farge, John Lennon and Jesse Ed Davis, Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Castillo. Their heritage plays loudly in their songwriting, dress, and words. Even as explicitly pro-Indigenous rights music became blocked by record labels, musicians spread the pride through stories and generations to current times. Castillo and Davis particularly receive almost a memorial coverage as they both died suddenly. The segment ends with a young, smiling Randy Castillo in a promotional video for Black Sabbath telling the audience to, “ … try to play with other people as much as you possibly can because you can learn a lot faster that way … the whole idea is to play with a band.”
While positive, “Rumble” does not lean into the genre of a “feel-good” documentary. The hard-to-swallow truth for a non-Indigenous audience watching the film may come from seeing the same battles fought today. The film ends with footage of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, which Standing Rock tribes still have to push back against six years later. It does not ignore the brutal past in place of uplifting Indigenous musicians.
But despite it all, these musicians and cultures persevered. “Rumble” asserts these sounds cannot be disregarded from their deep Indigenous roots, historic collaborations, and counterculture elements. They resonate and will continue to do so with many generations of Indigenous audiences and beyond.