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Exploring Songs In Native Languages From Mexico, Guatemala, Bolivia


LUZMILA CARPIO: (Singing in Quechua).


If you didn't quite recognize the language in that song, it's because it's an indigenous Latin-American language. NPR's Jasmine Garsd is here to explain. She is the cohost of Alt.Latino, NPR's weekly music podcast. She is joined usually by her cohort, Felix Contreras. Felix is away this week so Jas is flying solo. Happy to have you here as always.


MARTIN: OK, so, Jasmine, when we think of Latin-American music, usually we think Spanish, maybe Portuguese. You brought in something really different. Tell us more about this song.

GARSD: This is Luzmila Carpio. She's a very traditional folk singer from Bolivia who sings in Quechua, a language spoken in a lot of countries in South America. And this is this awesome movement that's happening in South America. It's led by the ZZK collective in Argentina. And it's these inner-city DJs that mix beats with traditional indigenous and folk songs for the dance floor.

MARTIN: Very cool.

GARSD: And you end up getting something like this.


CARPIO: (Singing in Quechua).

MARTIN: So tell us more about the - is there a story to this song? What are we hearing?

GARSD: Well, yeah. This is - I mean, Luzmila Carpio tells folk stories. And this - I have a really hard time saying this name, and you're - if anyone speaks Quechua out there, I'm sorry I'm butchering your language. "Amaotayku Avelino Sinani," it's a Captain Planet remix. And she basically sings folksongs, like traditional folk legends. Yeah.

MARTIN: OK, so next you are bringing us a song from Guatemala.

GARSD: Well, one of the reasons why I got the idea to do a show for Alt.Latino about indigenous lyrics and music sung in indigenous languages is that when I was living in Mexico and traveling through Central America recently, I just would never stop finding out about a new language. And under the umbrella of Mayan languages, there are so many. There's, you know, there's Cakchiquel, Mam, Quiche. And next up, I brought you a rapper named Tzutu Baktun Kan, and he speaks Tz'utujil, which is a Mayan language.


DR. NATIVO AND TZUTU BAKTUN KAN: (Singing in Tz'utujil).

MARTIN: Cool, and there's, like, this spoken word kind of hip-hop vibe, right?

GARSD: Yeah. Well, I think it's amazing but not surprising, you know, hip-hop is everywhere in the world, as we know. But also, if you think about it, Mexico and Central America have such a close relationship with the U.S., you know, for better and for worse. They're just, like - it's a revolving cultural door. So it makes a lot of sense that hip-hop is very present in Central America.

MARTIN: OK, so we've talked about some electronic music, a little hip-hop, perhaps. Now you've got something in the rock vein?

GARSD: Yeah. A lot of our listeners loved this next band. They're from southern Mexico from the state of Chiapas. They speak another Mayan language, Tzotzil. And the song is called "J'ilol," and the band is Vayijel.


VAYIJEL: (Singing in Tzotzil).

MARTIN: I like it. Do you understand what they're saying? I mean, do you understand this? No.

GARSD: I know it's about, something about curandero, like someone who is a natural healer. But I don't understand this language. No.

MARTIN: Now you know how I feel when you and Felix bring in things in Spanish.


GARSD: I just appreciate the beautiful music. And I just love the sound of some of these languages, you know.

MARTIN: Very cool. Thanks so much for stopping by. You can hear Jasmine Garsd and her cohost, Felix Contreras, on their weekly music podcast. It is called NPR's Alt.Latino. Thanks so much, Jas.

GARSD: Thank you.


VAYIJEL: (Singing in Tzotzil). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.