R. Carlos Nakai

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
R. Carlos Nakai
Born (1946-04-16) April 16, 1946 (age 68)
Origin Flagstaff, Arizona, United States
Genres Native American
Occupations Musician
Instruments Native American flute
Years active 1982–present
Website www.rcarlosnakai.com

Raymond Carlos Nakai (born April 16, 1946) is a Native American flautist of Navajo/Ute heritage.


Ray Carlos Nakai was born in Flagstaff, Arizona on April 16, 1946 and now resides in Tucson, Arizona. He is a Native American of Navajo and Ute heritage who began his musical career as a freshman at Northern Arizona University studying brass instruments and playing in the NAU marching band. In his sophomore year he enlisted in the US Navy with the hope of eventually playing in the Armed Forces Band.[1] He passed the highly competitive auditions for the Armed Forces School of Music and was 28th on the waiting list for admission. Playing with the Armed Forces Band became impossible, however, because an auto accident damaged his mouth making it impossible to produce the correct embouchure to continue playing brass instruments.[2] Shortly after this accident, he was presented with a gift of a traditional Native American cedar flute and challenged to master it.[3]

Nakai says that most of his inspiration comes from the expressions of native communities and his desire to preserve his own Native American heritage. In addition, he likes to blend his native music with that of other cultures thereby helping to preserve their heritage as well. To that end, he has collaborated with a Japanese folk ensemble, the Philadelphia Orchestra's Israeli cellist Udi Bar-David, and many others.[3] He has worked with American composer Philip Glass[4] Tibetan flutist Nawang Khechog and flutist Paul Horn. A 2005 collaboration with slack key guitar master Keola Beamer fused two very different indigenous American cultural forms and resulted in the album Our Beloved Land. He has expressed his philosophy and views of Native American culture in the modern world in an interview with Native Digest.[5]

The Library of Congress has more than 30 of his recordings preserved in the American Folklife Center.[6]

His "Earth Spirit" and "Canyon Trilogy" albums are the only Native American albums to be certified Gold by the RIAA.

Nakai developed a system of tablature notation (commonly known as Nakai Tablature) that could be used across a wide variety of flute keys and tunings. He published this in The Art of the Native American Flute (1996) with James Demars, Ken Light and David P. McAllester. This provided resources and support for other musicians playing the Native American flute.[7]

In 2005 he was inducted into the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame.[8] He was awarded the Arizona Governor’s Arts Award in 1992.[9] He received an honorary doctorate from Northern Arizona University in 1994 and the NAUAA Dwight Patterson (1934) Alumnus of the Year Award in 2001.[10] Nakai earned a Master’s Degree in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona.


  • Songkeepers (1999, 48 min.). Directed by Bob Hercules and Bob Jackson. Produced by Dan King. Lake Forest, Illinois: America's Flute Productions. Five distinguished traditional flute artists - Tom Mauchahty-Ware, Sonny Nevaquaya, R. Carlos Nakai, Hawk Littlejohn, Kevin Locke – talk about their instrument and their songs and the role of the flute and its music in their tribes.[11]
  • The New World (2005, 135 min.). Directed by Terrence Malick. Produced by Sarah Green and Terrence Malick. Performed "Water Bearer", "Ancient Voices", "Ritual 1" and "Spiral Journey". Courtesy of Celestial Harmonies/Mayflower Music Corporation.


R. Carlos Nakai Discography

  • Changes, 1983
  • Cycles, 1985
  • Journeys, 1986
  • Earth Spirit, 1987
  • Canyon Trilogy, 1989
  • Emergence, 1992
  • Mythic Dreamer, 1998
  • Island of Bows, 1994
  • Inside Canyon de Chelly with Paul Horn, (1997)
  • Inner Voices, 1999
  • Inside Monument Valley with Paul Horn, (1999)
  • Enter >> Tribal, 2001
  • Fourth World, 2002
  • Sanctuary, 2003
  • In Beauty, We Return, 2004
  • Talisman, 2008

Compilation appearances[edit]


  • The Art of the Native American Flute, 1996. R. Carlos Nakai with James Demars, Ken Light and David P. McAllester


  1. ^ Frank, Kathleen. "Celebrating Cultural Differences Through Music". Native American Cultural Center. Arizona Board of Regents. Retrieved 19 March 2013. 
  2. ^ "Chautauqua Lectures 2012". Eastern Kentucky University. Retrieved 19 March 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Wein, Gail. "Native American Composers". NewMusicBox. New Music USA. Retrieved 8 April 2009. 
  4. ^ "Philip Glass: Music: Piano Concerto No. 2". Philipglass.com. New York: Dunvagen Music Publishers. Archived from the original on 2010-08-24. Retrieved 2010-08-24. 
  5. ^ Native Digest. "Interview with R Carlos Nakai". Raven Voyager. Retrieved 20 March 2013. 
  6. ^ Nakai, R Carlos. "R Carlos Nakai, All Items". Library of Congress. Retrieved 20 March 2013. 
  7. ^ Clint Goss (2011). "Nakai Tablature the Native American Flute". Flutopedia. Retrieved 2011-12-15. 
  8. ^ Nakai, R Carlos. "Inductee Biography". Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2004-2012. 
  9. ^ Nakai, R Carlos. "Recipient List". Arizona Citizens for the Arts. Retrieved 20 March 2013. 
  10. ^ Nakai, R Carlos. "2001 Award Recipients". Northern Arizona University Office of Alumni Relations. Retrieved 2001. 
  11. ^ Joyce-Grendahl, Kathleen. "Songkeepers: A Video Review". worldflutes.org. Suffolk: International Native American Flute Association. Archived from the original on 2010-08-12. Retrieved 2010-08-13.  And: National Museum of the American Indian.[dead link]

External links[edit]