Grammy winner Robert Mirabal is a local Taos musical talent with a big footprint. Mirabal was born and raised at Taos Pueblo, where he continues to live, raising his own children and farming the land in the traditional way. Growing up mainly with his maternal grandparents, Mirabal attended school at Taos Pueblo until he was in his early teens. His childhood was one of traditional simplicity. From his family he learned his people’s ways; the language and culture, how to farm the land, to hunt and participate in ancient ceremony.
Early on in his childhood he discovered a love of literature. Books became his escape from the daily routine at the Pueblo. So did music. His music teacher at the Pueblo School, Martha Oestreich, was a multi instrumentalist. From her, he learned to play the piano, clarinet, saxophone and other instruments. He was introduced to classical music, which became the foundation for his own compositions. Music, along with words transported and inspired him. So did dance.
He joined the Taos Mountain Shadow Dancers around the same age he started going to school in town and toured the country with the troupe, further expanding his horizons. Another teacher, Nancy Jenkins encouraged his participation in drama and performance. A trip to Russia as he exited his teens, and his following move to New York City, honed his creative vision and allowed him to become the extraordinary artist he is. An award-winning musician, Mirabal performs worldwide, “sharing flute songs, tribal rock, dance and storytelling,” according to bio materials.
Mirabal has just completed a new album, “River,” with regular collaborators (ETHEL), a string quartet from New York. “The CD should be released in January of 2016, if all goes as planned,” he says. “We recorded at the Pueblo this summer and plan to tour to promote the release, early in the year.”
“I’ve been auditioning for several movies lately, but one never knows how that turns out. We’ll just have to wait and see,” he says with a smile. “I’m also working on some new artistic projects, actually dabbling much more with designing amulets, jewelry and moccasins and I am hopeful this will pick up. As you know, I’m always busy with some order or another, be it the flutes or whatever else I’m making at any given time.” He laughs.
“Busy” is an understatement. When he’s not touring or recording, he’s constantly involved with projects that challenge and inspire. A natural storyteller and talented writer, Mirabal updates his blog constantly and somehow also manages to find time to work the land during the growing season and to include his two youngest daughters in his activities.
“There are so many projects on the back burner, you know, he explains, “From music and art to farming, as well as the books I’m working on. I need to focus my energy on one thing at a time, and right now it’s been about making red chile buffalo tamales with my girls.”
His flutes have been displayed at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, and he’s appeared in several motion pictures and television productions, yet he remains incredibly modest and essentially who he is at his core: A Native Son of the Red Willow People.
His annual Holiday Concert at the TCA was fast approaching when we talked and promised to be the usual sold out event it always is. In the spring, he plans to head back to South America, where he has a huge fan base, to record another album in Ecuador. “My audience has been growing there,” he says. “And I think it’s time for me to collaborate with some musicians there and see where that takes us. There’s been some talk of a larger tour including Columbia and Peru, but we shall see … ”
Music and Farming go hand in hand for Robert, who once told me “they are like cousins.” Farming too looms large in the New Year. “I’ve been brainstorming with another colleague about the possibility of doing a show based on agriculture, a type of travel show where we would travel around the world to connect with other agricultural warriors.”
Clearly he shows no sign of slowing down in the near future. But no matter how far he travels, we can be sure of one thing, to Taos he always returns. You can find out more about Mirabal at mirabalnativeflutes.com.
TAOS MAGAZINE | JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2016