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Rez Jamz spotlights tribal talent

Cypress Billie performs for Rez Jamz, a new musical series at To-Pee-Kee-Ke Yak-Ne Community Center in Big Cypress. (Photo Beverly Bidney)

BIG CYPRESS — Tribal singers, songwriters and musicians now have a place to share their talents with the tribe and the
world at large.

Rez Jamz is a new musical series designed to showcase tribal musicians and is produced at the To-Pee-Kee-Ke Yak-Ne
Community Center in Big Cypress.

“Rez Jamz is for artists who aren’t super well known,” said Quenton Cypress, Heritage and Environment Resources Office community engagement manager. “Some do it as a hobby and may have Instagram and Facebook pages where they sometimes post. It’s modeled after MTV Unplugged and is mostly acoustic music.”

To-Pee-Kee-Ke Yak-Ne means gathering place in Elaponke, so it’s a natural location for folks to get together. Cypress
said once the pandemic restrictions are lifted, the plan is to open To-Pee-Kee-Ke Yak-Ne as a venue where people can listen to live music. Food trucks and barbeque aren’t out of the question either.

For the time being, the shows can be seen only virtually on the To-Pee-Kee-Ke Yak-Ne YouTube channel. Artists come to To-Pee-Kee-Ke Yak-Ne and perform their acoustic music for a Seminole Media Productions video and sound crew. Cypress wants to post about three performances a month.

“Right now we hope to raise awareness of Rez Jamz,” Cypress said. “So far, it’s spreading by word of mouth.”

Singer songwriter Cypress Billie was the featured performer during a taping in late September. Billie, who performs
as Cornwallis, is a member of the Long Tail Panther Clan and the Big Cypress community. He is also an educator at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.

Billie has been writing songs since he was 13 years old. His father, former Chairman James Billie, was his inspiration. As a kid, he played ukulele, but as his hands got bigger his father gave him his guitar.

“He told me to stop covering other people’s music and start writing my own,” Billie said. “He said ‘you are living your life and are living a story; it’s up to you to depict it.’ I listen to other artists, but it’s better to sing my own songs.”

Billie was inspired by bands with a variety of musical styles including the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Clash, Jim Croce, Credence Clearwater Revival with John Fogarty, Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers and most importantly, he said, Black Sabbath.

“The riffs they include and the musical orchestration they had was profound,” Billie said. “They were the pioneers of a new sound in a new age.”

Guiseppe Tartini, a Venetian baroque composer from the 1700s who is best known for the Devil’s Trill Sonata, also caught Billie’s ear and piqued his interest.

“He writes with no words at all and shows how frequencies can be manipulated into another language,” Billie said. “He
evokes emotion without speaking a word.”

Billie uses the art of storytelling as he tells the story of his life in his songs. It isn’t always easy to write, but he perseveres.

“If it was easy, everyone would do it,” Billie said. “Songs are a memory in time, like photos.”

He performed a dozen songs during the taping, including two of his favorites, “Enchanted Oklee” and “Summer Wind.”

A crew from Seminole Media Productions tapes Cypress Billie during a Rez Jamz performance. (Photo Beverly Bidney)
Beverly Bidney
Beverly Bidney has been a reporter and photographer for The Seminole Tribune since 2012. During her career, she has worked at various newspapers around the country including the Muskogee Phoenix in Oklahoma, Miami Herald, Associated Press, USA Today and other publications nationwide. A NAJA award winning journalist, she has covered just about everything over the years and is an advocate for a strong press. Contact her at