Navajo musician Hataalii honored as breakout star of 2023

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Friday, August 25, 2023 - 12:17pm

Audio icon Download mp3 (14.09 MB)

Man sitting on statue with fence, car and building in background
Hataalii's dad
Hataaliinez Wheeler.

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.

More stories from KJZZ