mesoamerica and the maya world

Month: March 2017

Balam apju.

Balam Ajpu: Maya Hiphop as Political and Cultural Expression


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.

Jose Garcia, Guernica magazine:

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.

Center for Latin American Studies, Vanderbilt University:

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.

Bandcamp Daily:

Women, Latin America, and the U.S.

Laura Chinchilla, 46th President of Costa Rica.

Laura Chinchilla, 46th President of Costa Rica.

Lately I have been trying to figure out why there is such an extreme strain of misogyny and gynophobia in the United States. A related question, and maybe a clue to the answer, would be why Latin America has been the region with the most women presidents in recent years. According to the Inter-American Dialogue think tank, as reported in Diplomatic Courier, “since 1970 eight of 29 women elected as heads of state around the world have come from Latin America or the Caribbean—an impressive 27.5 percent.”

Nicaraguan poet, writer, and political activist Gioconda Belli, in an article in The Economist (published before the U.S. presidential election) argues that “behind every macho man there’s an insecure boy in need of mothering, so in Latin America men in all their virile glory have not disputed the suitability of women for the higher office.” My instinct is to recoil from this pop psychology (which Belli says is “based on my powers of observation as a writer and my feminine intuition”), which seems a bit offensive in its implicit condescension. Then again, is it so different from some of what Octavio Paz argued? Belli goes on to say that

It is a big step to have women as presidents, but in the patriarchal structure of power we have all inherited, very often women are still forced to prove that they are as “tough” as the toughest of men. A woman president who would defy the masculine model of power and infuse it with the feminine ethic of caring and real equality is still in the making. Although women as Latin American leaders have many challenges ahead, they have managed to get to the right place, and now they have to be daring enough to seize or declare that it is the right time.

As a woman who has spent her life in Latin America, Belli has cred that I can never have. Still, I return to the issue of misogyny in U.S. politics and culture. Is the implication then that the role of the mother is comparatively devalued in the U.S.? Maybe to an extent, but I don’t think that can be the biggest part of the answer.

Whatever the reason, our fear of powerful women is an embarrassment, and a factor that impedes our social and political progress.

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