Disney music video features Klukwan songwriter

Klukwan resident and Diné (Navajo) artist Clara Natonabah wrote and sang a Navajo song that was featured in a Disney Junior Shake Your Tale with Chip 'N Dale music video.

The song, titled "Hózhóogoo Dahwiit'áál" (We Will Sing in Beauty), was released on YouTube and appears in the cartoon where the popular Disney cartoon characters dance to Natonabah's song.

Natonabah was chosen by Disney to celebrate Native American Heritage Month in November.

"I was asked to participate for this miniseries for Disney Junior where Chip and Dale are traveling all over the world," Natonabah said. "I'm part of a series where they go to India, Nigeria, China and Brazil. I was representing the United States, Indigenous people here, and the Navajo people here."

She said the song celebrates the beauty of coming together in peaceful song and dance. The music and lyrics underwent many drafts, she said, and was reviewed by a council of Diné elders, educators and an ethnomusicologist from the Navajo Nation.

Natonabah, who earned a bachelor's degree in songwriting from Berklee College of Music in Boston in 2015, moved to Klukwan, north of Haines, from Santa Fe, New Mexico, in May 2020 to live with her longtime partner Cody Hotch. She gave birth to their son, Lewis, in August.

Natonabah met Hotch on a high school trip to Washington, D.C., more than a decade ago.

"It was just a bunch of Native kids hanging out," she said of meeting Hotch. "At the last second before I took off from the airport, he asked for my phone number."

Their romantic relationship ebbed and flowed, but they remained close friends throughout that time before the pandemic allowed her to work from a distance. "This is our first real shot of actually being together and making it work. We're definitely the typical millennial kids. The majority of our relationship at first was just through text."

At Berklee, she was awarded the Gates Millennium Scholarship and $10,000 after auditioning with a Navajo song she had co-written with a friend. She later moved back to her hometown to head up and revitalize the Santa Fe Indian School's performing arts program, which she was a member of as a high school student.

"I overhauled their performance and performing arts scene. We worked with a nearby college, the Institute of American Indian Art, and established a dual-credit program," she said. "That was my whole life for six years. Now I'm a stay-at-home mom. The Disney gig was one that I had landed while pregnant."

In high school, she worked to learn her Native language by translating her poems into Navajo. At the Santa Fe Indian School, she was a member of the Spoken Word Team, a performance poetry collective and one of the only all-Native women's teams. They competed in the Brave New Voices Poetry Slam and toured nationally and internationally in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Natonabah also recorded an album released in 2019, a compilation including her and other Indigenous women's music from across the United States. It was released as a fundraiser and to bring awareness to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women's movement.

It's in the spirit of her Navajo culture that she approaches her art. "You use your talents to serve society, to serve your people," she said. "I only take projects that benefit Native people in some fashion. That's what I feel is the right thing to do."

Natonabah's range extends beyond traditional Navajo music. She's written standard pop and rock songs, and was even a member of heavy-metal and mariachi bands. She now considers herself a writer of contemporary Navajo music.

"I didn't set out to write contemporary Navajo music. I think I am just a Navajo person living in modern times so sometimes it just happens that way. I just love music and I kind of let it tell me what it needs and do my best to pay respect to the culture. I also want to challenge what we think Native American music is."

She describes Navajo music as pragmatic, written and performed to a purpose such as giving thanks.

"The songs have meaning," she said. "Whether that meaning is for blessing someone who needs prayers or a work song or a song for forgiveness, they're pragmatic, useful songs that you sing when you need something or are asking for something. There's also funny songs and humorous songs."

She's currently working on earning a masters in English from the Middlebury Bread Loaf School of English.

 

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