District 7 Singer “iiwaa” Receives Excellence in Music Award in Flagstaff

Kyle Knox
Gila River Indian News


District 7 Community member Jay Mercado was awarded the Excellence in Music award at this year’s 14th annual Viola Awards in Flagstaff on April 30. Mercado, who performs under the name “iiwaa”—the Pee Posh word for “heart”—has lived in Flagstaff for the past nine years, recording music, performing and attending events to support the growing local live music scene. 


Creative Flagstaff, the local arts council, sponsors the Viola Awards recognizing local artists, musicians, storytellers and more. The Excellence in Music category recognizes a locally based musician or organization for the presentation of live, performed or recorded music during the previous year in the greater Flagstaff area.


As part of the award, Mercado performed live at Flagstaff’s landmark Orpheum Theatre after the ceremony. Through his performances, he has built a following in Flagstaff and surrounding areas and can be heard on the local 107.1 FM KJACK radio station

Mercado also was a featured artist on the traveling Native Guitars Tour, which provides performance opportunities for Native American musicians. Founded in 2007, the tour also helps to foster and mentor talent and employ artists within the industry.


“With the success I’ve experienced, I would like to find ways to reconnect and be present in the Community, both in District 7 and broadly throughout the Community,” said Mercado. Keeping the Community close to his heart, he said, “I would really like to be available and make myself known and be available to the Community, youth and our elders, and serve as an encouragement to everyone.” 


Mercado was born and raised in Casa Grande and graduated from Casa Grande Union High School in 2010. After high school, he attended the Institute of American Indian Arts, and then pursued a Bachelor of Music degree at Northern Arizona University. 


In 2020, he began to pursue his music career outside of his regular work. In February 2021, he released his Dysphoria EP as a way to tell more of his story. Creating his music helped him unterstand himself better, he said, allowing him to gain better perspectives on his gender identity, working through trauma, difficult relationships, letting go and healing. 


However, Mercado also cited a few challenges, such as the media’s lack of representation of Indigenous performers. “Growing up and not seeing anyone like myself on TV or hearing Indigenous artists on the radio posed some challenges because I couldn’t see myself in the positions of where I am now or where I aspire to be,” he said. However, he now hopes to be that performer for the future Indigenous artists to follow.


Mercado added that some of the adversity he’s faced in building his success “without having a blueprint” means he’s navigating the music industry on his own with little to no guidance.


As iiwaa, Mercado’s music is rooted in songwriting and weaves stories from his own experiences. Storytelling is an inherent Native trait that provides teaching and life lessons. This is an area where Mercado shines through his lyrics. 


Mercado writes, sings, raps and plays most of the instruments on his records. He said he feels that his music honors everyone and is very inclusive and not profane.


More than the success and fame, Mercado said he wants to do right by GRIC and carries the Community with him in every setting. 


“My success makes me really proud to be a representative of the Community,” he said.” This goes past performing on stage and how I sound on a recording. I show up in other communities when I meet other artists and do interviews. I am always trying to be the best representation of the Community and hope I can make the Community proud of me in the future.”