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News > Culture

Indigenous Resistance Through Music: Meet 8 Activists

  • The Indigenous peoples of Latin America and around the world all face discrimination, racism and disrespect.

    The Indigenous peoples of Latin America and around the world all face discrimination, racism and disrespect. | Photo: Reuters

Published 17 April 2016

“We’re not going to let this culture die. I know I must continue the culture of my grandparents, of my ancestors," said Honduran musician Aurelio Martinez.

Music website Remezcla published a list of eight Central and Southern American artists who were stood out among the rest for their commitment to the struggles of Indigenous people around the world.

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“We decided it was high time we brought visibility to the artists who are putting Indigenous resistance at the forefront of their musical creations,” Remezcla said.

And here is their list, which they emphasized, is only representative of the many revolutionary and activist musicians out there.

1. Lido Pimienta

Colombian musician from Barranquilla, who is now in Toronto, speaks of her roots in Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities of the Wayuu territory back home.

She recently released “Agua,” and anthem to water and which speaks “directly to the fragile strength of Earth, and our problematic, almost morbid, relationship with her.”

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The term “cantoalagua” also refers to Lido’s study of the Indigenous-led movement of the same name, which finds like-minded efforts led by First Nations communities in Canada.

“Traditional Colombian, Afro-Colombian, Indigenous percussion is really sacred, and it’s really important that I know how to use it,” Lido said, according to Remezcla. “So the way that I integrate it into music is in a way that is true to my imagination.”

She emphasized the respect she has for ancient music and the people that created it saying, “I think it’s important … to be careful not to appropriate peoples’ cultures, to know that this music has existed before us, and that we need to respect it, and if we are going to sample something or replicate it, we need to credit the people that created it.”

2. Los NIN

This group is from Ecuador's northern lake town Otavalo.

They stand out as an unmediated voice speaking for Indigenous resistance, Remezcla said, citing their video “Mushuk Runa,” or “New Man.”

This piece speaks of the reality Indigenous people in Latin America and the rest of the world face, which is discrimination and racism.

“We are Indigenous and we all suffer the same ... we are unappreciated due to the color of our skin ... because of the way we dress ... because of the language we speak.”

Los NIN go as far as singing in the Indigenous Andean language Quechua but with a hip hop mentality.

“Hauranga huaranga kutin tigramushin,” he sings in Quechua, which means “We will come back and we will be millions.” The phrase was originally pronounced by the Indigenous leader Tupac Katari who lead a rebellion against Spain in 1780.

3. Aurelio Martinez

This Honduran musician served as a lawmaker from 2006 to 2010. He fiercely fought for the rights of the Garifuna people of Honduras.

Martinez left the Congress vowing to never come back to bureaucracy and decided he would instead focus on Indigenous resistance through music.

“We’re not going to let this culture die. I know I must continue the culture of my grandparents, of my ancestors, and find new ways to express it. Few people know about it, but I adore it, and it’s something I must share with the world.”

He has picked up a style known as paranda, which was created in the early 1800s after the British colonizers forced the Garifuna people from its original homeland in St. Vincent to Honduras.

His most acclaimed album, “Laru Beya,” has become a symbol of the fight of Indigenous people against oppression.

4. Nillo and Sentidor

Nillo is from Costa Rica and Sentidor from Brazil. They have created a natural fusion known as SIBO, which is a mix of Skype, SoundCloud, Drobox and Ableton Live, and Costa Rican Talamanqueña, which comes from the Indigenous culture of Central America. But SIBO is also the name of the Talamanqueña culture's omnipresent deity of creation.

SIBO, in the end, is the product of a long-distance collaboration between ethnomusicologist Johnny “Nillo” Gutierrez, and Brazilian producer Joao “Sentidor” Carvalho. They met on SoundCloud.

Remezcla explains: “As a researcher, Nillo’s access to vocal recordings of the Ngäbe tribe’s ritual chanting serve as the project’s source material, layered with electronic looping, sparse bass-heavy elements, and a newly-created sample palette for a tasteful reinterpretation of the ancestral.”

Their track “Lamento del Chaman” is a critique of modern ideas of progress and their ill-effects on nature and local culture, while also denouncing the displacement of Indigenous communities in Costa Rica.

5. Tzutu Baktun Kan

He is a Mayan musician from Guatemala.

“For such a long time it was considered an insult to be Mayan; our ceremonies were prohibited and we were even prohibited from speaking our own Mayan languages [during the war]. Now, it is almost like a rebirth in an understanding of what it is to be Mayan. We want to wake up the people and bring our beliefs and stories to the light.”

Tzutu was born in the mountainous town of Santa Maria. His verses are a mix between Tz-utujil and Spanish lyricism and through his chants he speaks of the oppression of his community has suffered for centuries.

Tzutu runs a hip-hop school in the communities surrounding Atitlan, and many of his lyrics retell the stories that emerged from the country’s armed conflicts.

6. Luzmila Carpio

She is from Bolivia, where she has become a symbol of the Indigenous people.

Carpio is now based in Paris. She has released more than 25 albums and has toured extensively through Europe.

7. Balam Ajpu

Also from Guatemala, Balam is a Mayan hip-hop group. Their stage name means jaguar warrior and is formed by M.C.H.E., Danilo Rodriguez, Dr. Nativo and Tzutu Baktun Kan, who has been mentioned here before. They all met at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.

They mix ceremonial mantras, instrumentation referencing ancient Mayan traditions, and “la Kultura Hip-Hop.”

They have come up with a mix between Indigenous rites and contemporary digital music elements.

8. Nicola Cruz

He is also from Ecuador, although raised in France. He recently went back to Quito, Ecuador, paving the way for a sound he himself calls “Andes Step,” which is a mix of a vast rhythmic structure and delicate, slow-burning, cumbia and huayno-influenced melodies, Remezcla explained.

Cruz’s sound is based on electronic production while embracing analog instrumentation and source material.

His “Prender El Alma” or “Light the Soul” album features tracks like “Eclipse,” which directly sampled Otavalo-based, Quinchuqui community member Enrique Malas’ song “Uaua uañuy.”


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