Native American trio Ulali performs at Guilford

Ulali performs in Dana Auditorium on Nov. 5 (Inslee Hackett)

Ulali performs in Dana Auditorium on Nov. 5 (Inslee Hackett)

After the opening ceremony of the Native American photography exhibit on Nov. 5 in Hege Library, patrons left the gallery feeling shaken and touched. Though the photographs were amazing, they weren’t the cause.

The Native American women’s a cappella group Ulali had just finished a rousing performance in celebration of the exhibit’s opening, performing with the same captivating energy the trio has been emitting throughout its history.

Originally called Lady’s Choice, Ulali consists of Pura Fe, Soni, and Jennifer, three Native American women from New York and Connecticut. Pura Fe and Jennifer are cousins, and both part of the Tuscarora tribe, a common identification of many North Carolinian Native Americans. Pura Fe, living for years in the traditionally Native American Robeson County, NC, now lives in Chapel Hill. Soni is part of the Mayan, Apache, and Yaqui Native American tribes.

On their Web site, they claim to be “the first Native women’s group to create their own song from their strong roots and personal contemporary styles.” Started 15 years ago, it seems to have been a consistent goal of Ulali to create something new and original by standing out amongst the thousands of other Native American music groups.

At their 7 p.m. performance in Dana Auditorium, they were able to fill the entire theatre with ear-piercing noise, yet withhold extremely beautiful and unusual three-part harmonies. The instruments in use rotated between shakers, authentic drums made with animal skins, guitar, and their own voices and hands.

“I could hear a very distinct gospel influence in their music,” said first-year Josh Shelton. Before one of their more powerful numbers, Ulali offered words of wisdom: “never forget who you are and where you come from.”

It is clear that Ulali do not take advantage of their popularity and use their music and actions to say something meaningful and important.

Ulali play several benefit shows a year, such as fundraisers for cancer and AIDS research and women’s rights rallies. Activism is a large part of their existence, and Ulali make no joke about which side they support. “We’re wearing broken heart necklaces tonight ’cause George Bush won,” said Jennifer before diving into the opening chants of the song “Necklace Of Broken Hearts.”

“Get active. We have four more years of hell ahead of us,” Ulali said to the audience during a break in their performance. “I was afraid to be a liberal, but not anymore.”

After more political talk, which included a joke where Soni changed “Washington D.C.” to “Washington deceit,” the performance ended to a rousing round of applause. Afterwards, when I asked if any of their songs had distinct Anti-Bush messages, Pura Fe simply replied: “It will be coming very soon.”

However, there is a lot more than just politics that inspires them as a band. “We have to pay our bills, but there’s also an activist side to support Native causes, to educate, to build bridges…we need to reach out to people,” said Jennifer.

Through the bands extensive travels, they have tried to spread their message of peace and understanding with their music and performances. Whenever Ulali speaks in between songs, it is usually an effort to inform and raise political awareness, as well as to address the struggle of their own native people.

Ulali has traveled throughout the U.S., Canada, Germany, Italy, Fiji, Portugal, Japan, and Morocco, performed at important historical events such as Woodstock ’94, the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta and the opening of the Smithsonian Institute’s new American Indian Museum in Washington D.C.

Everywhere they go, they touch the people for whom they perform.