SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It’s been a busy year for musician Mato Wayuhi.
“This year, in general, has been a year to expand my repertoire,” Wayuhi said Tuesday morning via Zoom. “So, you know, Rez Dogs, the film festival, making runway music for fashion shows, doing podcast music… I’ve just been really stretching myself to see kind of what the possibilities are.”
The young artist is now based in Los Angeles but was born and raised in Sioux Falls. Wayuhi is an enrolled member of the Oglala Lakota Nation and his Indigenous heritage has not only informed the music he makes, but the projects he’s been a part of in his career.
In 2021, the then-22-year-old musician received a call from Reservation Dogs showrunner Sterlin Harjo who asked Wayuhi to compose music for the show. Wayuhi had never worked on a project of that scale but Harjo assured him that he would do what he could to get him on the project.
Not long after, Wayuhi joined the show as a composer.
“And so, we meet up [on Zoom], we meet with the showrunner and then some of the producers, and then the music editor, music supervisor, all these different people, kind of everyone that might be involved with just sound as a whole,” Wayuhi explained.
Together, the group would watch the rough cut of the episode and at any point there was a noise, they would pause the episode to talk about the sound and the elements that make it. The 22-minute episode might take more than an hour for the team to watch through. Then, they would describe to Wayuhi what they wanted to hear in that moment.
“It’ll say like, like, ‘Okay, well, Mato, can you make something, you know, in the same vein as this?’ I’ll say like, ‘Yeah, of course.’ Or it’ll say, ‘Mato, we can’t clear the rights to this song… Can you make something similar to that?'”
The FX show has found critical acclaim since airing and Wayuhi’s work will continue to be featured in the second season, which begins Wednesday, August 3. But Reservation Dogs is only one of the big projects Wayuhi has in the works this year.
At the beginning of the summer, Wayuhi travelled to Cannes, France, for the Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of the film ‘War Pony.’ Wayuhi began working on the film in 2020 but due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other circumstances, the project was delayed.
The film follows the lives of two young men on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Wayuhi and the rest of the cast and crew filmed most of ‘War Pony’ on the Pine Ridge Reservation with only a few scenes being filmed elsewhere.
After finishing the film, it was submitted to festivals all over. Their film didn’t end up being selected by the Utah film festival, Sundance, but that only pushed Wayuhi to work harder on other projects, turning the rejection into a mantra of, “I’ll do it myself, then.”
“And then in, I think it was April of 2022, I got the news from Gina, one of the directors that we made it into Cannes. And so, I was like, ‘Oh my God; that’s crazy,'” Wayuhi recalled.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe provided stipends for Wayuhi and the rest of the filmmakers to travel to France for the premiere of their film. It was Wayuhi’s first time in Europe.
“And so yeah, it was just wild because I was with just a bunch of my relatives and a bunch of folks that I’m close to that are, we’re all from the same place. And we’re just chilling in Cannes,” Wayuhi said.
The film won the Golden Camera Award in the festival and Wayuhi participated in press junkets, dined with IMDB executives and was able to sit in a packed theater while the film premiered in one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.
For Wayuhi, his work in music and film has been influenced by his Lakota roots. His music focuses on his upbringing in South Dakota and the film projects he’s worked on reflect the state he grew up in.
To have found success on Reservation Dogs and have a film premiere in Cannes, Wayuhi has helped to grow Native representation in media that he didn’t have growing up.
“The show is, it’s an amazing step in… the expressiveness, and the beauty, and the artistry that Natives can make on a mainstream platform,” Wayuhi said. “And so, I think people talk about the like, there’s like an Indigenous renaissance in the past couple of years, but we’ve been doing this for thousands of years.”
For those who enjoyed the first season of Reservation Dogs, Wayuhi said the second season was even better.
“It’s the humor times 10. It’s the drama times 10. It’s the sadness times 10; it’s just the richest I’ve ever seen the show before,” Wayuhi said.
In addition to his big year in film and TV, Wayuhi is working on another album and has been a part of a partnership between Netflix and IllumiNative to give Indigenous producers the funds and resources to network and develop a project over the course of a year.
Wayuhi has several performances coming up, one in Sioux Falls and one in Rapid City. On August 27, Wayuhi is set to perform on the That Sounds Decent stage, an event he used to work with when he was still living in Sioux Falls
Then on September 3, Wayuhi will perform at the Native POP Festival in Rapid City.