Mixe Indian dancing music

The importance of native peoples has only really been recognized in Mexico since the eighties. Only then did these people, who represent over 10% of the population, timidly gain access to public and political life. Since then, new laws granting greater rights to the Indians, particularly regarding the use of their mother tongue, have gone some way to answering the aspirations of the supporters of indigenous populations in Latin America in their quest for recognition and  social justice. The situation in the state of Oaxaca is, however, different from that of the highly mediatized neighbouring Chiapas where, as early as 1974, the first Indian Congress was held, convened by the Bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas. In Chiapas, in effect, the Indians form a minority that is totally excluded from political life, whereas in Oaxaca, whose government is traditionally mixed-race, they represent the majority and are well organized socially. Thus, most of the demands of the Zapatist insurgents in the Chiapas are already included in the state of Oaxaca's Constitution, modified under pressure from the Indian majority. Today, one can observe in all the communities of the state of Oaxaca the emergence of structured political and social organizations as well as the unification of the communities into various mobilization networks. Local government is not idle, either. It is increasing the number of development projects and tries to respond to the volume of demand.

The Pre-Colombian linguistic heritage of Mexico includes 56 Amerindian languages, which are spoken over a two million square mile territory in the North and above all the South of the Federal Republic. Taking the country as a whole, it is thought that over 70% of the Indian population is no longer monolingual and currently has a good knowledge of Spanish, the national language. This bilingualism has the advantage of broadening communication and those who speak Spanish are able to solve many administrative problems. A seemingly contradictory result of this bilingualism is that it often reinforces the use of the mother tongue due to a greater awareness of the latter's cultural and symbolic richness. In the state of Oaxaca, almost 80% of the population is of Indian origin (Zapotecs, Mixe...), that's to say around two million people. Practically half of these speak an Indian language. Here, bilingualism is on the increase among Indians. Only 10% of the Indian-speaking population is monolingual. Of the Amerindian languages spoken in the Oaxaca region, Zapotec and Mixe are those most prevalent and therefore they are better able to resist acculturation or even extinction.

ima livret tekuas 123

The little village of Santa Marίa Yacochi (town of Tlahuitoltepec), where these recordings were made, is situated in the Sierra Norte, in the state of Oaxaca at an altitude of over 3000 metres. It has around two hundred inhabitants, mainly Mixe Indians (Ayuukä'äy) who live as best they can from the agricultural products they grow high in the mountains and from trout farming. As is often the case for peoples living in the mountains, the Mixe have long been neglected by governments and their administrations and today they are lagging far behind the lower-lying populations in terms of development.

Mixe society is patriarchal, whereas that of the Zapotecs with whom they live in the mountains, is matriarchal. In terms of religion, like most peoples of Pre-Colombian origin the Mixe are strongly Christianized, but have deftly integrated their ancestral beliefs into their religious practices. Thus, just three hours walk from Santa María Yacochi, on the slopes of mount Zempoaltèpetl offerings and sacrifices (generally poultry) are regularly made  to honour the old divinities. A ritual calendar determines the dates for the sacrifices which will help the pilgrims to cure themselves of the particular illness from which they suffer. During certain Christian celebrations, such as the feast of the Virgin of Guadaloupe, the villagers gather on another mountain, the Coscomate, and there they celebrate the mother goddess Pachamama with their shaman (dinnador). During the celebrations, music generally accompanies dances like the spectacular "machete" dance on Assumption Day, during which the villagers strike sticks together to give the rhythm, or the "malinches" dance that vibrates to the sound of the bells. Western instruments such as the violin, the guitar, the double bass and the drum have long since replaced the traditional instruments, with the occasional exception of a few flutes of more ancient origin. In days gone by, the musicians made their own instruments. Today, the techniques have been forgotten and the instruments are bought in the city. Nevertheless, Santa María Yacochi, with its scant two hundred inhabitants, has no less than three orchestras, including the Maravilla de los 20 cerros (Tzùh ëtz y'a Nixpxyuukm'ut – The Marvel of the Twenty Mountains).

The orchestra, created in 1985, and directed since then by Angel Sarmiento Marinez, carries on the Ayuuk tradition of string ensembles that appeared around 1900. Today, the orchestra, composed solely of string instruments, has around ten musicians, including two violinists, several guitarists, two mandolin players and a young double bass player. As they have fewer instruments than musicians, they were forced to take turns during these recordings, especially the guitarists. This type of orchestra, also called Conjunto Típico, is generally arranged in two semi-circular rows: two guitars and a double bass in front, the violins and other possible instruments at the back. This formation is open, so anybody can join or leave as they please. The repertoire of a Conjunto Típico generally includes enough pieces – by playing on variations, repeats and the length of the pieces – to cover the needs of the many celebrations (fiestas), which usually last one to two days. The Maravilla de los 20 cerros can thus perform at least forty traditional melodies and over twenty tunes from other villages or other communities. In between the festivities, every day, at the end of the afternoon, the musicans get together to rehearse. Musical practice and the repertoire are transmitted orally.

The orchestra, as well as the two other formations in Santa María Yacochi are called upon to play during public festivities (patriotic, village-related, religious, patron saints, ...) but also throughout the whole region on request of individuals for weddings or births. During these festivities "musical jousts" are held between the various orchestras. For their services, the musicians generally receive a small fee as well as their food.


The musicians of the Conjunto Típico Maravilla de los 20 cerros often perform barefoot (tekuas means "without shoes" in Ayuuk), wearing their white cotton suits to assert both their Indian origins and their belonging to the rural world.  

CD tracks
  1.  Kong-oy 
    "The Creator"  -
    Agustín Domínguez

  2. Dos dias de fiesta
    Two Days of Celebrations"  - Pedro José

  3. El cantaro de mi tepache
    My Tepache Jug"  - Manuel Diego
    (Tepache is a fermented fruit drink)

  4. No se porque llora
    I don't know why he's crying"  - José Juan
  5. Amor de la música
    "For the love of music"
    Agustín Domínguez & Rito Rigorosa
  6. Escaso
    Insufficient"  - Agustín Domínguez 

  7. El abandonado
    "The Abandoned" -
    Andrés Pillo

  8. El cigarro
    The Cigarette" - 
    Miguel Gabriel 
  9. El capisayo
    A plant that gives shelter from the rain - Augustin Dominguez

  10. El jilote
    "A Cob of Corn" -
    Juan José Vargas
  11. Nos contentamos
    We enjoy ourselves" -
    Juan José Vargas
  12. El calvo 
    "The Bald Man"  -
    Manuel Santiago
  13. El tigre
    "The Tiger" -
    Andrés Pillo
  14. El rebozo 
    The Shawl"  -
    José Juan
  15. Somos alegres
    "We are happy"  -
    Agustín Domínguez
  16. Voy a bailar 
    I'm going to dance"  -
    Andrés Pillo
  17. Descalso 
    Barefoot"  -
    Juan José Vargas