Music Industry

INSPIRED: Cloud Eagle’s Glendon Toya on Keeping Pueblo Music and Culture Alive for New Generations

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Kristien Brada-Thompson

One of the new releases Team ALIBI is most excited about this spring is a

of authentic, yet modern, Pueblo music composed and performed by Cloud Eagle, a quartet of family performers who both sing and dance for their tribe and others.

When we got the chance to talk with Cloud Eagle member Glendon Toya, the experience was special and the message clear: authentic Native American music continues because it is passed down to each generation. But unless tribes find a way to counter the distractions of an increasingly connected technological world, this important part of the culture risks fading away.

Instead of fighting technology, however, Cloud Eagle boldly embraced it when COVID hit, recognizing that the music needed to be accessible on cell phones at a time when people could not physically be together. Not only did they keep their tribe connected, but they ended up reaching and inspiring people – young and old alike – far beyond their original intentions.

Now working with ALIBI to release these new albums for use in film, television and other visual media, Cloud Eagle sees a way to greater expand the reach and influence of Pueblo music, and we couldn’t be prouder to help play a part in its thriving future.

One very cool note: Before we dove into our interview with Glendon, he asked us if it was OK that he introduced himself and said a prayer in his native language. While we were not able to transcribe that, we have linked the audio

. It’s quite beautiful.

ALIBI: First, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today and for allowing us to hear you speak in your native tongue.

Glendon: I want to properly introduce myself. As all Indigenous communities of the world, we have our birth-given names, so I want to introduce myself that way, as well as offer a little prayer for our meeting, for us to be granted with a good day going forward and whatever we do to keep inspiring the world.

ALIBI: We really appreciate that, and we thank you for taking the time to talk with us. To get started, could you tell us about Cloud Eagle and what motivated you to begin making music?

Glendon: Sure. Let me just start back in the early 1980s. My dad started a dance group to promote our languages and to promote our style of singing and dancing. He named the dance group The Seasonal Dance Group from the Pueblo of Jemez and Zuni, being that we share dances done throughout the seasons: the Buffalo Dance being done in the wintertime celebrating and honoring the animals; the Corn Dance, which is done around the spring time for a successful crop; the Rainbow Dance, which is done in the summer for moisture; and the Eagle Dance done at the harvest time in celebration for what mother nature has grown for us.

I was around 8 years old when all this began. There's been many generations of us, and we still have the dance group going at this present time. Right now, my two children -- my daughter who is 6 and my son who is 4 -- are dancing in the group. So that's how we started the dance group.

And as far as the name Cloud Eagle, there was a certain time – I want to say early 2000 -- when our reservation was introduced to cell phones; everyone was fascinated with the technology and our language slowly became a loss risk to the younger generation, becoming more engaged with the outside world. We saw a definite effect from that.

By the year 2014, we began to work on our first album. We started making songs that were inspired traditionally yet with a contemporary flare for the public and our audience. We recorded our first album in the summer of 2014 and released it late in the same year to promote our language and make the music available electronically, for people to be able to listen to on their cell phones.

We named the title of the album after a song featured in the album composed by my father. He called it “Cloud Eagle.” We had always gone by Seasonal Dance Group. However, from that point, everybody started calling us “Cloud Eagle.” Our name was given to us by the people and that's what we stuck with.

ALIBI: Awesome. And what has that journey been like for you since you took on the name Cloud Eagle in 2014? How has it been?

Glendon: Well, we've been very fortunate to not only attract our tribal members but also the entire Native America at large… to be able to adapt to other languages and spread prayers and messages in various languages through our songs. Prayers of moisture have been key within our pueblo: moisture, long life… nothing but life is what our culture is about. This has been our way of prayer since time immemorial. It's had a huge effect. We've been very fortunate, like I said, for our music to reach the world. We really didn't plan on that to happen until COVID came around.

With proper authorization from our tribal leaders, such as the caciques and our war chiefs, we began going live on social media with our songs to spread joy and hope. We had to reach out to our community for reassurance that all will be fine. We didn’t step out of our homes. Our religious calendar froze for three years, at which time we lost many community members, and many became ill. We had to reach out some way and, thanks to social media, we were able to reach out to our community by singing songs of joy. Our first live went viral within other indigenous communities and just kept going.

ALIBI: Since going through this experience, what have you found most rewarding about making and sharing Pueblo music?

Glendon: Well, the inspiration in the community and around the world… getting into people's hearts, seeing how it helps them through pain, illness, depression... being a motivation in school with our younger children, and seeing the children take interest in this type of music and starting to make their own songs for our ceremonies. The inspiration our drum and songs have been to our indigenous communities is what is more rewarding… being visited by younger people to review their songs or to get our feedback.

ALIBI: That leads right into our next question… how are you keeping your music and traditions relevant for these younger generations? Would you say it is the act of putting it out there electronically that is doing that? Or are there other things that you're doing as well to keep younger people engaged?

Glendon: Yes, our music being available on the different social media streams out there, and one of the biggest ways is involving our youth in our dance group. As I said, we’ve had the dance group since the early 1980s. We have had many generations of dancers come and go. By that, we are keeping the interest and desire within our youth. We're constantly putting up dances or being asked to participate. Our social gathering songs, whether it be at a birthday party, a wedding, a graduation, keep our communities engaged.

ALIBI: Do you have a particular creative approach when you begin to make new music, like a ritual or routine that gets you into the right mindset?

Glendon: Yes, each day brings a new beginning. We start off by washing and cleansing our body, our hands, and praying to the sun with cornmeal, feeding the spirits... asking for a good day, all the travel that we do on the road, for safe journeys to and from our destinations.

The music itself starts off the same way. We pray to our spiritual guidance, which are the canaries. Birds of all types are always singing. They are our spiritual guidance.

The most prayed-upon bird would be the Mockingbird because the Mockingbird has many different types of songs. If you listen to a Mockingbird, they'll just keep going… different rhythms, different chirping sounds. That Mockingbird just has many different songs for all dances. Of course, there are other rituals that I unfortunately cannot disclose.

ALIBI: Can you tell our readers a little bit about how you began working with ALIBI?

Glendon: I got a call from Jeff Parks (COO), who actually knows my uncle John Toya, who is an artist. They developed a friendship during his artist-in-residence program at the Banana Factory for several years. We also had the opportunity to share our culture and our music at the 2005 Musikfest there in Bethlehem, PA. It was through their friendship that we were able to connect.

ALIBI: One you had touched on a little bit earlier is that nature is a recurring theme. You spoke about moisture and life, but can you explain the significance?

Glendon: In our Pueblo culture, planting and caring for our crops is our livelihood, not only for the fact that our harvest will nourish our bodies, but also because we believe that we grow life and what we desire through growing our crops.

My wife and I had a rough period in our lives when we were not able to conceive and start the family that we very much desired. After many years of trying, my dad reminded us of our cultural belief of growing our family by planting seeds for mother earth to grow for us. We prayed to every single seed and put our heart, mind and soul to the planting season of 2016. We prayed and sang for moisture; we took care of our crops wholeheartedly. In April of 2017, we learned we were expecting our first child. We now have two beautiful children.

We continue to carry and teach this belief to our children… that we can grow what we desire, and that water is life. Therefore, our songs are recurring of mother nature and what she offers.

ALIBI: We also noticed there are several Pueblo languages represented in the lyrics -- Towa, Zuni, Keres and Hopi. How do you decide on the language for a particular song?

Glendon: Our songs come based on what we see in nature. Songwriters get their title from sitting and writing down lyrics. In our native culture, songs come to us from what we see. If we see mountains or rolling hills, we will follow the incline or descent and base the rhythm on that. Example: The lyrics will come from seeing a cumulous nimbus cloud and lightning over one of our ancestral sites and we have words for it in Towa, Keres and Zuni. We will go with what fits into the rhythm.

Towa is our primary language on my father’s side as we grew up in Jemez (Walatowa). You hear the word “Walatowa” in many of our songs. It’s a name given to our present location, meaning “This is the place.”

The Zuni (Shiwi) language is our secondary language on my mother’s side. The Keres language is spoken by the neighboring Pueblos along the Rio Grande River, and the Hopi language is spoken by the Puebloan neighboring tribe in Arizona. The languages have been shared through song and dance for centuries.

ALIBI: Could you tell us a bit about your inspiration for the song


Glendon: “Grandpa's Wisdom” is featured in our first album as a reflection on what our father has taught us growing up. It’s around the age where my nephew Riley, who is also a Cloud Eagle singer, would best understand his grandfather’s words.

Lawrence Toya bestows to his grandson, and to all children, the importance of song and our Pueblo way of life… the positive thoughts, prayers and feelings that we should have while making songs, because those intentions radiate to our audience… to be humble and to sing about life and growth; never about sadness or death.

ALIBI: Awesome. What excites you the most about the three albums that you're releasing through ALIBI?

Glendon: Well, this is totally on a different level -- now we're talking about film and television. Our music is available through other means of media, but to have our music available for use in film and television excites us. We will continue this hope and pray it reaches out to many more abroad. It also motivates us to keep inspiring our children to do more or to follow their dreams whether it be singing, dancing. Keep praying and keep our language alive.

ALIBI: And do you have a favorite track on the album or on any of the albums? Is there one that is your personal favorite?

Glendon: Hmmm… that's a tough one. I've been asked that before, and it's always been a tough one to answer. I would have to say that if there is one, it would be

on Volume 3.

I start off the song with a solo in the Hopi language, singing, “I am no special person. I have no special or religious role. I am just a person who humbly prays for the world daily.”

The others join the song in our Towa language, singing, “I pray daily for a full year cycle of life, full of pollination.” 

Being that we follow a religious calendar year, we pray for a bountiful year.

ALIBI: We love that. So, here's a fun one: When you picture in your imagination any of this music being licensed in the future, what types of projects do you envision?

Glendon: For our genre, I would have to say I envision our music fitting in Native American film… hopefully, in a film directed by Kevin Cosner… maybe some documentaries. Some of the older movies that I've been able to hear this type of music in are “Smoke Signals” and “Dances with Wolves,” just to name a couple. Similar to that is where I would hope and pray for our music to land.

ALIBI: Are you doing anything else exciting right now, career or otherwise, that you would like to share with the world?

Glendon: Besides my normal life being a husband with a wife and two small children, and working in the property insurance field, I plan to keep participating and singing for dances throughout our religious calendar. That is a normal part of life for us.

As for our music, I plan to keep making music to share with the world. We are preparing to go back into the studio to record our traditional songs adding a contemporary instrumental flare… recording more solo tracks for meditation and healing purposes. 

ALIBI: That actually segues nicely into our last question, which is what is the best way that people can follow your work for Cloud Eagle and otherwise?

Glendon: Definitely on

and we also have an page, as well as and . Like, follow and subscribe. Thank you.

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