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.
On their riveting debut LP, the trailblazing Mayan hip-hop trio carry the messages of the nawales (deities, many of them animal spirits) to the rest of the world. Each of the album’s 20 tracks is meant to evoke a specific nawal; some songs sample and replicate their animal sounds, others simply detail their divine attributes.
Rusty Barrett in Music as Multimodal Discourse: Semiotics, Power and Protest (Google Books; Lyndon C. S. Way,Simon McKerrell, eds.):
Balam Ajpu draws heavily on highly traditional and pre-Columbian sources. At their concerts, the members of Balam Ajpu wear long white hand-woven robes. The robes are not traditional forms of traje, but are more reminiscent of ceremonial clothing in pre-Columbian Maya art…. At their performances, Balam Ajpu builds a ceremonial fire similar to the one used by spiritual guides….
These are the ancient stories
that were told to us
by our first mothers and fathers
who asked our creators for the wisdom to sow our essence
–The track “B’atz,’ ” or “Child of Time.”
Tzutu adjusts the ponytail that reaches far down his back, and explains that he has been rapping in Tz’utujil, one of the 22 indigenous languages in Guatemala, since 2008. He has connected with a number of other hip-hop artists who perform in Mayan languages, which are spoken by 6 million people in the Northern Triangle of Central America, Mexico, and the U.S. Among those musicians are Chiapas’ Slajem K’op, who rap in Tsotsil; Pat Boy Maya, who spits in Yucatecan Maya; and Poesia Loca, a group that also raps in Tz’utujil. Beyond Central America, he has reached out to Supaman, a hip-hop artist from the Crow Nation in Montana….
Sócrates Tejaxún Xunic, Barrancópolis:
El disco es una muestra de la espiritualidad maya, una espiritualidad vetada por el sistema, es una interpretación del Cholq´ij que surge a 20 años de firmar la paz. El material discógrafico tiene como objetivo principal transmitir un mensaje de interculturalidad, de respeto a las personas y a los idiomas que existen en el país, no es música tradicional maya es una fusión de lo ancestral con lo contemporáneo. Es un homenaje a los Nawales y agradecimiento a las Abuelas y Abuelos.
Malva Izquierdo, managuafuriosa.com:
Los planes a futuro comprenden una gira de presentaciones más intensa y dos discos más, uno sobre las 13 energías y otro sobre los problemas sociales que asolan a Guatemala porque consideran necesario abordar el tema desde el tributo a las energías.
The group has a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Balam-Ajpu-1075374445824961/.
Featured image (atop post) from Barrancopolis.