The Yolotli choir The Yolotli choir. Director Leticia Armijo is dressed in red.

Choir works to save indigenous music

Yolotli's repertoire is a link to the origins of indigenous music in Mexico

The efforts of a Mexican researcher and composer could well be the last hope for the preservation of several native languages, along with indigenous musical heritage.

It was seven years ago that Leticia Armijo created Yolotli, the Women’s Choir of the Indigenous Peoples of Mexico, in an effort to save and spread the music that has been composed in the 60 endangered indigenous tongues.

Those languages include Kumiai-Kiliwa, Tojolwinik‘otik, Mayo and Cucapá, which are all difficult to translate into musical notation, says Armijo.

In its seven years, the chorus, whose name means “heart” in the Aztec language Náhuatl, has only been able to transcribe 40 original musical pieces, which the group wants to spread throughout the country in the hope that the indigenous compositions become part of musical education.

“The chorus’ repertoire is a link to the origins of indigenous music, enriching and clothing it with contemporary composition techniques,” said the choir’s director.

Armijo believes that the music she is promoting is often “one of the most unprotected, along with Mexican concert music, which is not played in favor of melodies of western European inspiration.”

The researcher’s effort has amassed a small but representative repertoire of Mexican indigenous music, including that of Juan Victoriano Cira of Michoacán and Roselia Pérez of Chiapas.

The translation from often unwritten languages to musical notation is laborious. Armijo remembers the case of a Kiliwa song whose translation needed the presence of a 13-member council of elders, who were also were the last remaining speakers of that tongue.

The efforts of Yolotli and its repertoire, she said, “should become part of study plans and programs in all of the country’s music schools and conservatories.”

“Unfortunately, federal policies aimed at rescuing indigenous music lack continuity; there isn’t a thorough cultural project. Despite the support given by the National Institute of Indigenous Languages (Inali) and the federal Secretariat of Culture, we often work without funding,” she explained.

The composer’s choral project has led her efforts into two other parallel ones: the creation of an encyclopedia of indigenous music and a musical exchange with the indigenous peoples of Chile and Bolivia that would enrich all the participants’ repertoires.

Yolotl will be performing on August 21 at Mexico City’s Teatro de la Ciudad, and later in the year in the same city’s zócalo, Fine Arts Palace and Amphitheater.

Source: Excélsior (sp)

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