Popular culture has a mistaken impression that Indigenous people are stuck in the past. Honoring ancestors, oral histories, and closely held traditions passed across generations is undoubtedly a tenet of most Indigenous communities, but that doesn’t mean present-day trends and new ideas are omitted from the conversation. In Ecuador, the Kichwa people are extremely proud of their history and cultural legacy. They are among the fiercest land protectors on the continent and also remain a vital source of pliable homegrown music handily intersecting with foreign influences. The Kichwa people even took to the streets in June when the government ignored prior land treaties and failed to execute fuel and education reforms.
A sonic mestizaje has taken hold of Ecuador, where ancestral Andean sounds can now be traced through homegrown rock and hip-hop. Trailblazers like folk-fusion masters Charijayac and rap OGs Los Nin have kept Kichwa voices in the foreground of Ecuador’s musical canon. Today, a new generation of artists is leading the charge, experimenting boldly and oscillating between pop ambition and producing fresh, challenging work.
There is room for all, so here are some proud Kichwa artists expanding the limits of tradition with forays into jazz, cumbia, and electronic music.
Formed in 2010 and hailing from the city of Cotacachi, Humazapas is a dazzling ensemble harnessing traditional rhythms and dances of the Kichwa community while creating exciting, often avant-garde, original music. Their dynamic stage shows have taken them to stages across Ecuador, and even a sold-out tour through France last year. Humazapas are definitely an act to watch, having signed with ZZK last year and organizing the Turu Uku music festival back in Aug., which convened local electronic acts like Cruzloma and Mala Fama, as well as rapper Guanaco. The group’s highly anticipated debut album is forecasted to arrive next year, promising an adventurous mix of tradition and innovation.
Poet, educator, and jazz performer Tamya Morán has been taking her music, culture, and language around the world for over a decade. Melding acoustic instrumentation with soaring vocal melodies, she first achieved national renown in 2011 as a contestant on Ecuador’s Got Talent, which positioned her for future performance opportunities in Colombia and New Mexico. Also known as Tamya Sisa, which translates to Flor de Lluvia or Rain Flower, the prolific artist has released two ethereal jazz LPs; 2016’s Chuyanlla (Transparencia) and 2018’s Muskupay Muyu. Get swept up in magical spoken word on “Nushu Andino,” dream out loud with “Kullur Shunku,” or give into catharsis on “Queriendo Gritar.”
For years, studio whiz Esteban Farinango has explored intersections of geography, sound, and ancestral heritage through his production project Mala Fama. Experimental electronic music becomes a canvas for textured Kichwa storytelling, sometimes chopping up vocals and others using complete narratives, all creating snapshots of day-to-day life in his home province of Imbabura. Spend some time with his 2018 debut EP Anta, released through DJ Riobamba’s Apocalipsis imprint, and stay tuned for a new full-length LP titled Jichushka scheduled for release on Oct. 28.
A ray of cumbia Andina out of the City of Chimborazo, Nelly Janeth is a bonafide pop star crafting dance floor crowd pleasers that run the gamut of soaring romances and gutting heartbreakers. Raised in a musical family, Janeth has largely paved her own way, scoring early hits with Kichua-written bangers like “Tigramuny Carnaval” and “Kanmata.” On recent releases like “Te Vas Lejos” and “Oye Casado,” she veered into tecnocumbia, never straying too far from campy music videos and impeccably designed traditional dresses.
Indigenous communities across the continent have often used rap as a direct means of narrating their own stories in unflinching, universal terms – and Ecuador is no different. With her project La MafiAndina, rapper Taki Amaru takes a spiritual shot at a world in chaos, pondering broken embraces between humanity and mother nature on “Humanidad” and emphasizing the transformative teachings of snakes in Andean culture on “Amarumi.” Run to La MafiAndina’s Bandcamp page and check out her excellent 2020 debut EP Pukapacha, filled with boom bap beats and soaring charango, while also celebrating female sexuality and agrarian customs that remain the backbone of most Kichwa communities.