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Navajo musician Hataalii honored as breakout star of 2023

Hataaliinez Wheeler grew up in Window Rock, on the Navajo Nation, and while he showed no musical inclination as a child, as a teenager he began to teach himself various instruments, using YouTube videos for instruction. At 16, he released his first album.

Today, the 20-year-old performs under the name Hataalii, a Navajo nickname that aptly means “to sing.” His fusion of neo-folk and desert noir combines the western gothic aesthetic of Jim Morrison, a vocal range somewhere between Nick Drake and Leonard Cohen, with Lou Reed’s ear to the street.

Last month, Spin magazine named him the breakout star of 2023. In June, he released “Singing Into the Darkness” a 12-song album that encapsulates the seamier side of the Southwest.

Hataalii spoke with The Show about how he initially took an interest in making music and more.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.