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American Routes Shortcuts: Meschiya Lake

Meschiya Lake
American Routes
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Meschiya Lake was named from Hebrew as “the anointed one.” Though Ms. Lake has yet to save the world, Meschiya has come a long way from Rapid City, South Dakota where at the age of nine she won a prize singing at a steakhouse. After high school, she hit the road and joined a traveling circus that brought her to New Orleans in 2000. That’s where she leads her band, the Little Big Horns. 

 

 

Meschiya Lake: Let’s start with the circus, that’s kind of where it all began. I had been looking for that perfect place and for the place that I fit in, and you know, found things that were close but when I met these folks, something just kind of clicked. 

Nick Spitzer: And what was your act or acts? 

ML: I had a shadow puppet surgery skit, and I ate light bulbs, and I spun fire. It took me a while to get into that though. I tried different roles.

NS: Let’s take eating light bulbs, how do you do that?

ML: I’d break it into kind of bite sized pieces, and then you just chew it up and swallow it, put the microphone really close to your mouth so it sounds horrible to everybody and say, “I’m gonna be sh***ing chandeliers in the morning!” And that ended up being my gig for two years.

NS: What led you to New Orleans?  

ML: The circus. They wintered here, so when I ran away with them, we’d do six months on the road, and then we’d winter here the other six, fine-tuning our acts. 

NS: Little Big Horns have been a tremendous band with you and for you it seems to me. 

ML: Yes, yes, they’re a fine group of fellas, fine group of fellas that have been with me since the beginning, definitely, for all my faults and all of our trials and tribulations. 

NS: Is Little Big Horn a reference to your days in the Dakotas?

ML: Most definitely, yes, it’s the battle that the natives won, so it’s my head nod to that. I’m a quarter Haida, and because of my father, grew up partly on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. 

NS: You know I know you also kind of like some of the classic blues singers, and you’ve got some tunes associated with Bessie Smith. I’m a big favor of “Gimme a Pigfoot.”

ML: Oh fantastic tune right? My usual lead-up to that song is, “This one’s about the joys of slumming it.” 

NS: You made a career in New Orleans singing, it seems to me, and it’s a hard place I think to come and really be accepted sometimes, because you know, there’s a deep jazz tradition, we’ve got the R&B, the soul, the funk, all of those things. Coming in from the outside though, people really appreciate all of what you do with your voice, and you’ve been able to really build a great following here. 

ML: Well I very much appreciate that, I guess I just got kind of lucky, you know, I didn’t know what else to do with myself, and I just had so much passion for it, and maybe because of the hard traveling that I’d done before, gave me kind of a stick-to-it-iveness I guess, you know. If you’ve got enough money for ramen noodles and blankets in the winter then that was good enough for me. 

To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.