It comes as no surprise that music has the power to influence people and inspire revolutions. The social and cultural reformations of psychedelic music in the U.S. during the 60s and that of punk rock in the U.K. and Australia during the 70s can attest to its far-reaching powers. And while the ability to unite throngs of people under a common banner is probably the most obvious power of music (why else would millions pay to watch their favorite performers in concert and base friendships according to similar musical tastes?) we don’t realize the power music has over us, I’d argue because most of the radical voice is lost or goes unnoticed. The messages we seek according to the radio are something along the lines of “I got hangover Ooo-aah / I’ve been drinkin’ too much for sure!”Unless it calls for the mobilization of youth towards a nation where everyday is Slope Day, it’s not revolutionary (even if I’d like to vacation in such a nation). Such songs are about having fun as the youth in the U.S. are allowed to. Kids being kids; nothing radical here. Carry on.
I was reminded of the true power of music after viewing documentaries by Simón Sedillo, a community rights event organizer and documentarian. Sedillo showcased two of his documentary films, Oaxaca en Resistencia (Oxaca in Resistance) and Cuando Una Mujer Avanza (When a Woman Steps Forward) at the Schwartz Center last Tuesday. Sedillo was hosted by the Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR) and the Center for Community Engaged Learning and Research (CCELR). Sedillo's films focus on the consequences of government corruption in Oaxaca, Mexico, primarily the marginalization of the indigenous communities. These impacts are, however, not all bad as the indigenous communities are finding new ways for their voices to be heard, mainly by banding together.
Sedillo’s films let us in on the ways that music can unite communities. In this case, Son Jarocho, the traditional music and dance of Oaxaca that sounds and looks like a faction of Flamenco, finds an unlikely partner in the urban U.S. infiltrator of rap and hip-hop, or Xip Xop as it is expressed in the documentary by its Mexican fans. Here is a case of the old and the new harmonizing to produce a single voice loud enough for the qualms of the sidelined Mexican communties to be heard, and this is just what Sedillo and Manovuelta Films aim to do. “Other NGOs will mention how they move in and empower a community. We stress that the community empowers itself,” said Sedillo. Political messages and notes of social reform are mentioned in Son Jarocho, as heard in the line “I like lime and I like lemon / But I don't like [President] Felipe Calderón.” Equally as empowering are the lines of local rappers such as Mare Advertencia Lirika, simply known as Mare, whose story and present vocation are the focus of Sedillo’s newest film, Cuando Una Mujer Avanza.
A self-proclaimed Zapotec Indian M.C. and feminist, Mare transforms her own method of self-expression into a musical devise which she and the youth of her community admire. Through postive messages in rap and hip-hop, she says, teens can become aware of the issues at hand and contribute to change.This Mexican M.C. stresses a sense of community over individualism which she deems unnatural. However, she is going against the notion of individualism that focuses on acqiring material wealth and benefits for the self. Thid view seems to have been infiltrating the indigenous communities. This sense of individualism is counterproductive to Mare and Sedillo’s unification efforts. The fact of the matter is, in her environment, Mare is an individual. Her raps mention seemingly radical subjects such as the church as a mind-control tool and women’s empowerement. The Catholic Church, in her mind, is one of the biggest brain-washers in Mexico. It tells followers, especially its female patrons, to conform to the way things are because God willed for things to be as such. Clearly, Mare sees the state of her fellow indigenous community and the roles of its women as the way things are that need to change.
In our standards, Mare would be conceived as a “modern woman,” an independent thinker who aims to be self-sufficient and rejects the general understanding of the members and roles needed to constitute the typical family. If some roles and ideals need to be contested for true mobilization of the marginalized classes, then there is a sense of a need to modernize indigenous societal ideals with the reality of the governing world. You can’t become a player in the game without accepting some of its rules. Sedillo’s films don’t really touch on what factions of indigenous life must be sacrificed in order to gain a place in the imagined “new” polity of Mexico — one different from its reality where the rich, light-skinned elite hold the power and the resources for education. But the films do tell us that the marginalized have the potential to reform the governing society, as evident in the 2006 protests when a 1.2 million strong coalition of poor Mexicans and indigenous peoples protested in the streets of Oaxaca.
It’s refreshing to see a substantial movement of people who believe that music should be purposeful and serve the people who listen to it. People like Mare and Sedillo don’t just want to “make it” for themselves. That sense of individualism is absent in their work. What they want instead is for their communities to make it and step out of a position of poverty and inequality that is not inherent in their identity as some would have them believe, but rather is imposed upon them by governing elites. In Oaxaca, they are inciting change through Xip Xop, and as the saying goes “it don’t stop.”