ZZK presents Humazapas
In Ecuador a young group of Kichwas salvage the past to play the music of the future.
By Grant C. Dull
“Art is one of the greatest operating systems human-beings have ever invented to explore consciousness.” —Jerry Saltz
What is the future of music? It’s all of you, it’s us. It’s the creators, the dreamers, the listeners, those who keep making music to inspire us; the people who make us dance, celebrate, contemplate, party, think, meditate, cook, travel and anything else we do to music. What would the world be like without music?
At my record labels ZZK and AYA Records, I want to strike up a dialogue with the planet. I feel very lucky to be able to represent the music of Latin America and show it to the world. It’s so inspiring, and at the same time, it’s a responsibility. The music we make is there for people to have fun, dance and celebrate, but it also has a special background: we tell stories about this beautiful continent, full of wisdom, tradition, mystic and magic. What we human beings have is not only tangible, it also exists beyond us. And hey, what better way to feel whatever’s in the great beyond than through music?
The responsibility I’m talking about is part of that; it’s about how we present the music of Latin America. While mass media and television show one reality, we show another.
We’re building a narrative of our own. The narrative of South American artists who express themselves in a way that’s authentic, modern and relevant. Our label doesn’t look to follow trends, it doesn’t put business first: what always moves us, right before we set out on a journey with any artist, is the music.
If we manage to transmit the beauty of this region, our work is done. We ourselves are the future of music. Who knows, maybe in a hundred years someone will be listening to a track by Nicola Cruz, Meridian Brothers, Son Rompe Pera, Luiza Lian or any of the artists who are creating stories about this land in the same way as us, by listening to our musical ancestors. Why not, when music is eternal?
I’d like to introduce some of the friends who are weaving this narrative with us, some young people from one of the countries and cultures I love the most, Ecuador. I first went there to work with one artist, and ended up meeting a whole family. Humazapas, led by Jesús Bonilla, is the future of music. In this group the past, the present and the future come together in equal parts.
VICE: Who are Humazapas?
Jesús Bonilla: Humazapas is a Kichwa music and dance band from the Andes in northern Ecuador. It is made up of young people of Kichwa nationality of the Kutakachi people, who ten years ago started to produce community-based Kichwa music and dance from their territory for the world.
Humazapas create their music through investigation, the re-empowering force of their community’s music, and the reinsertion of community musicians in the Kichwa territories. Their purpose is to give continuity to the music of the ancestral peoples of Ecuador, show the way, and free Kichwa music from its traditional context, while maintaining its community role.
What role does music play in Kichwa communities? In the north of Ecuador the Kichwa communities are peasant farmers who conserve agrobiodiversity. The peoples maintain a strong relationship with nature and the world of the deities. One of the sacred crops is corn and its agricultural cycle sets the annual calendar of celebrations and rituals in the communities. The music comes about from this relationship with the land and growing corn.
Music is a fundamental part of every celebration and ritual, as it plays the role of mediating between humans, nature and the world of the deities. The melodies, the instruments, the musical genres, the lyrics are created by every one of the celebrations that arise around the cultivation of agrobiodiversity, but also the music accompanies rituals like weddings, deaths, family celebrations, etc.
How important is the Humazapas project?
In the Kichwa communities: The process revitalizing and empowering our music and dance to guarantee its continuity has meant that Kichwa communities are starting to take an interest in artistic expression within their territories and to recognize them as an indispensable part of the development of community life.
We are concerned that Kichwa music and dance are at risk of dying out and being forgotten, as many musicians, dancers, singers, holders of wisdom are now elderly, and when they pass away they take all their knowledge with them.
We in the younger generations have the obligation to continue our grandparents’ legacy. Humazapas has managed to revitalize near-extinct rituals of the Kichwa communities and ritual dances, it has reintroduced community musicians and it is producing community music to guarantee its continuity along with the customs and traditions of the ancestral peoples.
In Ecuador: The music and dance of the ancestral peoples and nationalities of Ecuador have not been part of Ecuadorian musical culture. They have been discriminated like all the culture of minority peoples; as a result, there has not been a constant musical production of our music.
For a long time in Ecuador the reference point for Kichwa music was records recorded up to the 1990s. Since then our music has not been produced. Humazapas wants to free the music from its traditional setting without it losing its community role, repositioning Kichwa music and dance, contributing to the continuity of the art of peoples and nationalities, and creating spaces of true interculturality for everyone. We want to strengthen the Ecuadorian musical identity.
In the world: Humazapas wants to share with the world the colors, the textures, the sonorities, the rituality, the world vision and the knowledges of the people of the Ecuadorian Andes through music and dance, as these contribute to the growth of agrobiodiversity.
How do you see the recent boom of Ecuadorian music in the world? Ecuadorian music in the world is a great opportunity, a bridge to communicate the music kept in the ancestral territories, music that connects with nature and the deities, music to create life.
How do you see the future of music? Music is always in constant evolution, I believe that a lot of music stored for a long time in remote places is going to be heard on the world’s greatest stages, communicating its roots and generating spaces to share the music with all the peoples of the world.
What are Humazapas’s lyrics about? Our music comes from the crops, from the growth of agrobiodiversity, work that the ancestral peoples and nationalities have maintained. Our lyrics talk about this beautiful relationship between humans, nature and the world of the deities; they also contain symbols, signs and secrets of our Kichwa grandparents.
Why is it important to sing in Kichwa? Our Kichwa language and our music are a form of resistance against globalizing processes. Our peoples have held out for over 500 years against the processes of Conquest, Colonization and Republic, up to the present day, guarding and protecting community life, the language, the dress, the world vision, the music, etc. As the children of this resistance we have the responsibility to continue with this struggle and we do so through music in our mother tongue, which is Kichwa.