Maya culture is among the most persistent in the world. People sometimes say things like “The disappearance of Maya civilization remains something of a mystery.” But anyone who has lived in the land of the Maya knows the culture remains vibrant and strong. Yes, the Maya abandoned their jungle temples for political, cultural, environmental, and climatic reasons. But their culture persists.
It doesn’t do this without adapting. The musical group Balam Ajpu shows how Maya musicians can incorporate assimilate trends without betraying their cultural heritage. (The band’s music is commonly called “Maya hiphop.” I don’t think “hiphop” is exactly right, but I have followed convention.) Following are some excerpts from articles about the group; follow the links for more.
All of Balam Ajpu’s shows are that memorable. Far from a typical hip-hop recital, theirs is a ceremony, a rebellious spiritual gathering. Their lyrics are sincere tributes to the Mayan culture, Mother Nature, the forefathers and foremothers, the creators, the Earth, the stars, life. Their music: a fermented rendering of contemporary sounds. Marimbas, sonajas, turtle shells, hand-made drums, and birds chirping meet with acoustic guitars, basses, and violins to form slippery reggaes, smooth cumbias, and explosive Mayan raps.
Balam Ajpu: Means Jaguar Warrior and represents duality, the opposites that complement each other, masculine and feminine energy. This group is made up of M.C.H.E., Tz’utu Kan, and Dr. Nativo, who crossed paths at Lake Atitlán…. Currently the three are part of the musical project Balam Ajpu, whose goal is to combine Mayan spirituality with art and to achieve a fusion between the indigenous Cosmovision, or worldview, and music. For the past five years, they have worked with girls and boys from the Atitlán region and Quetzaltenango through their school of Hip Hop Cosmovision, Casa Ajaw. They are part of the movement that is recovering the ancestral wisdom that the Conquest tried to silence, relying on ancient art and combining it with contemporary trends…. The musicians of Balam Ajpu refer to their creative work as “downloads” that they received through a series of ceremonies with spiritual guides like Venancio Morales. The lyrical content is based on a theological investigation in Tz’utujil. It evokes pre-Hispanic music, which it mixes with universal rhythms and influences.