8 Musicians Highlighting Indigenous Resistance With a Modern Spin

Lead Photo: Photo by May Truong
Photo by May Truong
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Here at Remezcla, we find it paramount to highlight the struggles of indigenous people. Though there have been explicit efforts to remove, eliminate, and in all senses destroy the existence of indigenous communities across the world, to still be here retelling these histories and finding footing in the current context is revolutionary in itself. To that end, we decided it was high time we brought visibility to the artists who are putting indigenous resistance at the forefront of their musical creations.

The current context of these communities is not limited to folkloric iterations; in this list you’ll find a full range of genres and styles, from hip-hop in Tz-utujil, Quechua reggaetón, remastered and remixed legends, re-tellings of chanting rituals as told from new homes, sampled source material vocals, to “Andes step,” and more.

This list is not meant to be definitive by any means. Obviously, there’s tons of music beyond official label releases, SoundCloud, and anything you can find on Google, so there’s no doubt we simply haven’t heard more artists that belong on this list. We invite you to leave us recommendations in the comments section, and to help amplify these stories.


Lido Pimienta (Colombia)

Thank goodness: Toronto-based, Barranquilla-born multidisciplinary artist Lido Pimienta is back. After a short hiatus, Lido’s newest material speaks quite closely to her roots in Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities of Colombia’s Wayuu territory. Her newest track “Agua” doubles as a chant to the water, speaking “directly to the fragile strength of Earth, and our problematic, almost morbid, relationship with her.” 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 her current home of Canada as well.

Lido has spoken extensively on her efforts to work respectfully with musical traditions rooted in indigenous culture:

“Traditional Colombian, Afro-Colombian, indigenous percussion is really sacred, and it’s really important that I know how to use it. So the way that I integrate it into music is in a way that is true to my imagination. I don’t like to recreate sounds that are traditional to a group of people that have created it for centuries because I would feel like I am ripping them off, and I’d feel like I am taking advantage of them because I get paid for the shows but I don’t send that money home. So 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.”


Los NIN (Ecuador)

Otavalo, Ecuador – ¡presente! Los NIN stand out as an unmediated voice speaking for indigenous resistance. Their video for “Mushuk Runa” (“New Man”) opens with a video clip stating the reality that indigenous communities in Latin America face, something that’s not to be glossed over – “Somos indígenas y nos pasa lo mismo/ nos desprecian por nuestro color…por nuestra forma de vestir/ y por nuestra lengua.” This opening clip sets the tone for indigenous youth to speak about themselves, for themselves – done precisely with quick Quechua flow, conscious hip-hop mentality, and flute-based Huayno sampling, all laid over a dembow beat.

The video places Los NIN as outspoken representatives of resistance in the hip-hop context. “Mushuk Runa” works in video clips of Yarina, a traveling Quechua-repping group that’s toured extensively and promoted visibility, and leads out with a revisited quote from Túpac Katari, a leader of the indigenous rebellion against Spain in 1780 Bolivia whose message couldn’t be more fitting: “Huaranga huaranga kutin tigramushin”/ “Volveremos y seremos millones.”


Aurelio Martinez (Honduras)

Aurelio Martinez served in the Honduran Congress from 2006-2010, fighting for rights of the country’s Garifuna population. After that stint, he made the clear decision to leave bureaucracy behind, instead focusing his efforts on promoting the community’s culture 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.”

Martinez can be considered an ambassador for paranda, a style that emerged in the early 19th century after the “migration” (more precisely, the forced deportation of the community after a mandate from the colonial British government in 1796) of Garifuna culture from its origins in St. Vincent to coastal Central America. As a manifestation of the Garifuna community, a culture descended from African slaves and Caribbean indigenous communities, punta layers acoustic guitar over percussion that draws directly from West African drumming traditions. Paranda, as showcased on Martinez’s acclaimed album Laru Beya, has also become a medium for leveraging music against oppression, as heard for example on “Wéibayuwa,” where Aurelio characterizes politicians/his former colleagues as sharks to be wary of, or “Tio Sam,” which lays out the economic and struggles that many in his community face.


Nillo and Sentidor (Costa Rica and Brazil)

Nillo and Sentidor’s SIBÖ can also be considered a natural fusion of the forces that are Skype, SoundCloud, Dropbox, Ableton Live, and source material from Costa Rica’s Talamanqueña indigenous culture. SIBÖ, also the name of the Talamanqueña culture’s omnipresent deity of creation, is the product of a long-distance collaboration between ethnomusicologist Nillo (aka Johnny Gutierrez) and Brazilian producer Sentidor (aka João Carvalho), who met on the prolific creative breeding ground that is SoundCloud.

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.” Perhaps best of all, rather than romanticizing or exoticizing indigenous culture, Nillo and Sentidor were really listening to the the narratives emerging out of the current context; “Lamento del Chamán” is a criticism of modern ideas of progress, their effects on nature and local culture, and ultimately the displacement of communities in Costa Rica, Sentidor’s home city of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and innumerable places worldwide. A remix edition of the original album, SIBÖ Revisited, dropped earlier this year via music platform Sounds and Colours with remixes from producers repping Japan, Mexico, the US, Germany, and Brazil.


Tzutu Baktun Kan (Guatemala)

Emcee and hip-hop educator Tzutu Baktun Kan is a force behind reclaiming the word “Maya” in the context of his home of Guatemala. He says, “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.”

Born in the mountain pueblo of Santa Maria, Tzutu Baktun Kan’s verses jump between Tz-utujil and Spanish lyricism as he makes an intentional connection between his position as a storyteller for his community’s oppression, and of the origins of hip-hop coming from stories of marginalized black and brown communities in the stateside context. While building out a sound bank that doubles as an act of Mayan cultural resilience, Tzutu Baktun Kan also runs hip-hop school in the communities surrounding Atitlán, and many of his lyrics function as retellings/preservation of stories that emerged from the country’s armed conflicts.

Check this video of Tzutu Baktun-Kan supporting the local resistance in la Puya in the community’s fight against the El Tambor mining project owned by the Reno-based engineering firm Kappes, Cassiday & Associates. The community continues to fight even after protesters were forcefully evicted from their 24-hour blockade of the entrance. Government-issued injunctions have been repeatedly ignored by the firm.


Luzmila Carpio (Bolivia)

Meet (or more likely, re-meet) Qala-Wala Potosí’s Luzmila Carpio, who recently got the remaster and reissue treatment courtesy of a collaboration between Buenos Aires-based ZZK Records and Almost Musique’s UNICEF-sponsored recordings. On the remix EP, Carpio, who’s become emblematic of Bolivia’s indigenous, quechua hablante musical traditions, played a part in approving the new interpretations of her original recordings as they were outfitted with fresh edits. The resulting project, ranging from spaced-out dub to “lullaby remix” editions by Chancha Via Circuito, El Remolón, Captain Planet, and more, marked new territory in digital-era production experimentation by linking legends directly with the newer wave of producers throughout the production process. Carpio, who’s now based in Paris, has released more than 25 albums and has toured extensively through European circuits.


Balam Ajpu (Guatemala)

Guatemala City’s Balam Ajpu brings us another take on Mayan hip-hop, also with a fresh cosign from one of tribal guarachero’s OGs Javier Estrada. Balam Ajpu, meaning “Jaguar Warrior”– denoting dual, complementary masculine and feminine energies – is made up of M.C.H.E., Danilo Rodriguez, Dr. Nativo, and Tzutu Baktun Kan, who appears previously on this list for his solo work. The four linked at Lake Atitlán “at the beginning of the Wayeb (Time of No Time, 5 days in the Mayan Calendar) in the synchronization of 12 Sak Bey (carrier of the year) in 2010.” Mixing ceremonial mantras, instrumentation referencing ancient Mayan traditions, and “la Kultura Hip Hop,” the group’s 20-track album 20 Nawales is a glance at Balam Ajpu’s seamless merging between indigenous rites and contemporary digital music elements.


Nicola Cruz (Ecuador)

Ecuador-rooted, France-raised producer Nicola Cruz recently relocated to Quito, which perhaps laid the groundwork for coining a sound he’s dubbed “Andes step”– unified by a vast rhythmic structure and delicate, slow-burning, cumbia and huayno-influenced melodies. Much like his Chilean-American contemporary Nicolas Jaar (who unsurprisingly is a past collaborator), Cruz’s sound is similarly guided by electronic production while still embracing analog instrumentation and source material. Cruz’s 2015 album Prender El Alma, out on ZZK Records, features tracks like “Eclipse,” which directly sampled Otavalo-based, Quinchuqui community member Enrique Malas’ song “Uaua uañuy,” as fully accredited in the album’s liner notes.