Pinto Fuses Traditional Navajo Flute with Urban Vibe

Tygel Pinto owns six different flutes that he plays throughout his many performances.
Tygel Pinto owns six different flutes that he plays throughout his many performances. (Photograph by Ashlie Stewart)

Tygel Pinto is passionate. He gives himself whole-heartedly to what he believes in, and he doesn’t leave a lot of room for anything else. He is somewhere between 27 and 29, but he doesn’t like to dwell on small things like dates and times.

His focus in life is his music.

“I have two goals to accomplish in this life,” he says. “One, to become a fully realized human being, and two, to leave this world playing music.”

Pinto can be found playing the Navajo flute around Tucson in his signature style, which he dubs “Urban Traditional.” He has played with countless partners and has showcased his music at places like the Maker House, Espresso Art Café and Hotel Congress.

Pinto has been playing the flute since he was six years old. And today, he walks through the door with six flutes in tow, all dressed in individual colorful felt pouches.

In contrast to his decorated flutes, Pinto is dressed plainly, wearing a pinstripe, black button-up shirt and jeans, with his long hair tied back neatly.

Tygel Pinto is a local musician who specializes in playing the Navajo Flute. (Photograph by Ashlie Stewart)
Tygel Pinto is a local musician who specializes in the Navajo flute. (Photograph by Ashlie Stewart)

After he takes a careful sip of his coffee at the funky Café Passé on Fourth Avenue, Pinto delves into his life story, starting at the beginning, in Crystal, NM, on the Navajo Reservation.

“When I was young on the reservation there was always a lot of fighting and yelling going on,” he says. “So to get away from it all I would just go for a walk and play my music.”

Pinto grew up on the reservation and moved a lot. He ultimately ended up in Tucson when he was 16 and has been playing publicly here for the last four years.

He was pushed into single-mindedly pursuing his music by Tucson printer and activist Del Hendrixson. She met Pinto when he was going to school at Pima Community College, and she urged Pinto to drop out and focus solely on the flute. Hendrixson worked with Pinto on his music and stage presence and ultimately became his mentor.

“I critiqued his music, and taught him how to seduce his audience,” Hendrixson says. “I worked very critically with him. He used to be his number one fan and now he realizes his goal should be to please other people.”

Today Pinto classifies himself as homeless and is currently living on his friend’s couch as he works full time to promote his music. He hopes to start making more money off of his music, but for now he is happy with where he is.

“I am rich in community,” he says.

He loves Tucson and thinks it is the perfect location to grow his career. He is currently collaborating with a band from California called GSol. But he says he can’t imagine leaving Tucson.

“Tucson is an artistic hub,” Pinto says. “I feel that it is just going to blow up. And I have put my name, body, my effort and my whole health and wealth into this community. I feel that it would be foolish for me to leave right now because if I leave I will have to start from scratch.”

Pinto also tries to give back to the community. He loves working with kids and gives free lessons to individuals who he feels prove their dedication. He has also done workshops at the Global Justice Center in South Tucson and recently taught a group collaborating with the Tucson Arts Brigade.

“My greatest achievement at this point in my life is teaching kids,” he says.

Pinto is looking to the future. He plans to continue playing in Tucson and hopes to travel to cities throughout the country and the world. His passion for playing the flute only grows stronger each day–and he will not compromise his music for anything.

“Because what would life be like without music?” he says.

And with those last words Pinto picks up a flute and starts playing. At first his notes start off very traditional, but then become something else all together. He integrates beat-box and rap into his song and slowly heads start turning throughout the café.

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