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Arts & Culture

This Xicano Roots Fusion Group Is 'Writing The Soundtrack For The Movement'

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Nathan Cone
/
Texas Public Radio
Nicolas Valdez, Joaquin Abrego, Felipe Iruegas, Art "Barz," and Chris Malacara

Los Nahuatlatos (nä wät lâ tōs) is a group with deep roots to their Xicano-Indigenous heritage, whose mission is to “create original, inspiring and innovative music on a conscious level that people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy.” They describe their sound as “Xicano roots fusion,” because their music is a combination of different traditional Latino styles.

 

Although the group was formed 10 years ago, the membership has changed over time. The group currently has seven full-time members, including Nicolas Valdez (accordion and vocals), Joaquin Abrego (drums and vocals), Felipe Iruegas (bass), Luis Gonzalez (guitar), Chris Malacara (saxophone), Art "Barz" (aux percussion and vocals), and Matt Hill (trumpet).

 

For these musicians, Los Nahuatlatos is a brotherhood that grounds them, and an avenue for them to express their growing concerns for the community.

 
Their name, Los Nahuatlatos, derives from the body of language spoken by the various tribes of the Aztecas, and it loosely means “the translators.” And yes, people always ask them how to pronounce it.

“It is a challenge in itself; we are forcing you to utilize your tongue in a different way with an indigenous word,” Nicolas said. “We consider ourselves (to be) translators of music and translators of culture … despite the fact that it is always a challenge for people when they first try to say our name.”

Joaquin agreed.

"We give ourselves a strong indigenous name, and we want people to know with that comes a strong message and strong responsibility,” he said.

 

Danielle Trevino: Who has what role within the group?

 

Art "Barz": I bring a little bit of that energy that people can follow along with. I came from a hip-hop group. That is where Joaquin picked me up.

 

Nicolas Valdez: He brings energy to our live performances which is one of the biggest contributions. We excel in the live situation. That has always been where we are most comfortable. Feeding off of the crowd's energy, and we are really good about adapting to space and adapting our set to the vibe of the room. We have always had a multi-generational and multi-ethnic appeal. There are folks from all creeds and colors and ages ... everyone finds something that they connect to. … Felipe and Art both contribute to the social media game. Art makes the flyers. Joaquin does the booking. Luis brings the musical direction and composition. We are always evolving, everyone has a role. We try to play to each other's strengths.

 

Danielle Trevino: Regarding the second song, are environmental themes common in your music? What are some themes in the upcoming album?

 

Nicolas Valdez: The next album definitely has several songs written about and dedicated to la Madre Tierra. … It is just something for us that grounds our musical experience, and what we are trying to get across. It is about connecting community, it is about connecting to our roots, and having that perspective is the thing that drives us forward.

 

Joaquin Abrego: One of the things that is really huge (for us) is that we are no longer going to sit still, and we are no longer going to sit back. A lot of this has to do with the fact that as an indigenous person, our existence is already a resistance in this current state. To be indigenous is a point of resistance — it is an act of resistance. This music is what we want to be the background that’s playing when we are in are in action, when we are at the protests.

 

Nicolas Valdez: I remember the first big immigration rallies back in 2004-2005. I remember a news commentator saying how they were so surprised to see people with instruments in the rallies. I thought, well of course. That’s what we do, we celebrate life. The revolution, the movement, and all of these heavy things, we do them a celebratory way. … We are writing the soundtrack to the movement.

 

With a heavy percussion section accompanied by horns, Los Nahuatlatos creates an arrangement that encourages listeners to get up and dance. But their danceable beat is usually accompanied by an underlining, and often time’s unexpected, political messages or calls to action. In this sense, much of the music made by Los Nahuatlatos strikes a similar chord to Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” a complex trap, yet gospel, protest song for the modern era.

 

Through their music, Los Nahuatlatos touch on everything between environmental activism to the lasting societal impacts of colonization. During their Texas Public Radio set they performed “Jamás Inquieto” a rock-reggae tune paired with a call to action, “Pachamama” an up-tempo dance track that celebrates mother earth, and “Santo Negro” a cumbia rock jam that recognizes their Afro-Latino roots. The songs are so rhythmically playful that they entice listeners to wait for the next truth to sprout.

 

Los Nahuatlatos’ debut album “Tierra Sin Fin,” was released in the spring of 2017 and their second album, “Jamás Inquieto,” is set to be released on September 13th. You can find their music on Apple Music, Amazon, YouTube, and Spotify. Keep up with the band by visiting their website or following their various social media accounts: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.