In 1958, radio stations temporarily banned Native American musician Link Wray’s song “Rumble” from airplay, worried that the unadulterated rock ‘n’ roll sound might be too much for listeners to handle. It is the only instrumental song ever to be banned, and that was just the beginning of its effect on the industry.
“Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World” is a documentary that fills in some of popular music’s history with Native American writers and performers. The documentary is named after the pioneering and controversial vocal-free song by Wray, which can be seen in this film as inspiration for many other musicians to pursue the field. “Rumble” deconstructs popular music to expose how significant a role Native American music has had on defining U.S. music across all genres.
A film like this is incredibly important, not only for the music industry’s acknowledgement of the role played by the Native American population, but also because it compiles histories of artists.
The film is a cross-genre look at the role Native American musicians play and have played in the music industry. Funk, rock, jazz, and blues are all represented in the film, and artists like Jimi Hendrix, Mildred Bailey, and Redbone, are discussed.
The film is paced well, spending time on notable native musicians’ backstories and the influence their work had on other artists. For all “Rumble” covers, and it covers an impressive amount of the popular music landscape, I’d say what it does best is examine the relationship artists have with their own heritage. The film does not shy away from any topic and thoughtfully introduces difficult matter.
It’s a rare blend in a documentary, being both light and enjoyable to watch while still presenting a hard truth. Historically, the U.S.’s relationship with native populations has involved attempts to erase Native cultures and force assimilation, as “Rumble” highlights. “Rumble” steps forward, acknowledges this relationship and turns the lights on to show just how rooted, influential and important Native American music is to everything we know about popular music now.
If you’re interested in music at all, see this film. It’s playing at the Limelight Theater until Thursday, Oct. 19.