Iowa Alumni Magazine | April 2005 | Reviews

Native Joy for Real by Joy Harjo

By Mary Fishburn
Native Joy for Real

And now for something completely different.

Poetry put to music—against a background of Native American rhythms and smoky jazz saxophone—the sounds of Joy Harjo are like none other you’re bound to encounter.

An internationally known poet and musician, Harjo combines her talents on her latest album, Native Joy for Real, to paint an emotional rainbow of hope, love, passion, longing, and despair.

She weaves an unexpected tapestry of spoken-word lyrics, taken from her acclaimed poems, with brilliantly executed saxophone licks, the rhythmic beating of a powwow drum, chanting, rap, reggae, and smooth guitar. For a wonderful representation of these elements, just listen to “Reality Show” (click here to listen).The result is entirely unique. As Harjo’s lyrics are the album’s strongest attribute, poetry fans may be the most appreciative audience.

Native Joy follows Harjo’s Letter from the End of the Twentieth Century, winner of the 1998 Outstanding Musical Achievement Award from First Americans in the Arts, a nonprofit organization that recognizes American Indian participation in the entertainment industry. Affiliated with the Muskogee tribe, Harjo was also recently nominated for Native American Music Awards for best songwriting, female performance, and blues/jazz album.

This month, she’ll appear at the Des Moines National Poetry Festival. For more information about her music and tour schedule, visit

Whether or not you enjoy her music, it’s clear that Harjo injects a fresh and powerful poetic vision into her work. She’s a true original.