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Rap and Roots

29/11/2022

Rap and Roots The Mayan people of Mexico's Yucat n Peninsula breathe new life into their ancient heritage, with help from a Berklee alum.

By

Kimberly Ashton

November 25, 2022

Barrio Maya and M ul Paax are trying to spread the message that, Hey if we don't do something, a huge part of our culture is going to be lost: our language,' Guido Arcella M.M. 15 says.

Image by Evangeline Gala

Itzincab, a village of little more than four blocks nestled in Mexico's Yucat n jungle, is named after an insect that has played a central role in the local Mayan culture for centuries. In the Maya language, itzincab means little brother of the bee, in honor of the honey-maker that has traditionally provided food and medicine to the Maya. But the indigenous stingless bee is in danger of vanishing, and so is the language that gave it its name.

Though many of Itzincab's elders speak Maya, the younger generations mostly do not. The push to eradicate the language began with the Spanish conquistadors, but the threat to it today is from within Mayan communities, where it is sometimes viewed as a lower-status language relative to Spanish. Not only do Mayan children often not speak it at home, but those who use it in public are sometimes teased by their peers for doing so.

This stigma is one that Guido Arcella M.M. '15 and his colleagues at Barrio Maya and M ul Paax are working to change. Arcella, who also runs a film scoring business and a recording studio, is the cofounder and managing director of both projects, which are trying to stem the loss of Maya and to support indigenous music. Barrio Maya is doing this by supporting both the continuation of Maya through rap and the musical aspirations of rappers on the peninsula, while M ul Paax creates and performs pre-Hispanic instruments.

Barrio Maya and M ul Paax are trying to spread the message that, Hey if we don't do something, a huge part of our culture is going to be lost: our language,' Arcella says.

Part of that something the groups are doing is using music to help the Mayan community restore pride in its culture and see its heritage as something worth preserving.

Nadia Zupo Herrera and Jos Nah Abnal

Image by Evangeline Gala

You don't appreciate what you don't know, says Nadia Zupo Herrera, the stagecrafting director for M ul Paax. If you make it a daily practice to be exposed to Maya it becomes normalized and appreciated.

The idea for the projects came to Arcella after he graduated from Berklee Valencia with a master's degree in scoring for film, television, and video games. Arcella, a 32-year-old from Argentina, returned in 2015 to the Yucat n Peninsula, where he had lived for a time as a child in a Mayan village because of his father's job in the area's hospitality industry. Fresh out of the graduate program, he started a series of Mayan music labs at Hacienda Ochil, which was once a cattle ranch and henequen farm but now serves as a venue for private events and art projects.

Inspired by the success of these labs, Arcella wanted to figure out how to tap into the musical opportunities they presented. He reached out to Berklee Valencia's International Career Center for ideas and was advised to contact fellow alumnus Gael Hedding B.M. '05.

Hedding happened to be home, in Canc n, when Arcella got in touch with him in January 2017. Having grown up in the region, I have an understanding of the challenges and opportunities that exist among Mayan communities, says Hedding, who is now the director of the Berklee Abu Dhabi Center but remains an active advisor to M ul Paax and Barrio Maya.

The pair collaborated on a couple of events in which Hedding did live sound and production support. Guidos enthusiasm and dedication was infectious, says Hedding. Together, they began brainstorming the best way to leverage the Mayan community's talent and potential. We noticed that Mayan rap and pre-Hispanic instrument fabrication were both worth supporting, and that such support needed to happen through the form of education, Hedding says, explaining how he and Arcella came up with the idea to start Barrio Maya and M ul Paax, which were, and continue to be, incubated by Fundaci n Haciendas del Mundo Maya (FHMM), a nonprofit Arcella's mother directs that focuses on promoting cultural activities, nutrition, infrastructure, and economic and social enterprises in Mayan communities.

As Arcella and Hedding were considering where to take these projects, Arcella started two other endeavors that he still runs today: Arcella Sound, his film and video game scoring business, and Casona Indie Music Studio, his recording studio staffed with an engineer. It was at Berklee Valencia, he says, that he really learned how to run a studio, how to make his music sound professional, and how to use production tools to make that music shine.

Arcella manages to balance his leadership of these two projects with his own artistic work. This summer, Arcella was working on scores for two movies and two video games, in addition to numerous other engagements, including giving a master class in M rida on soundtrack design in film; auditioning child musicians to be part of a group that would play at Festival Paax on the Mayan Riviera; and giving film and game composition workshops at the Musicians for the World event in Peru. Within the last year, he's also done an artistic residency at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he had received his undergraduate degree in music composition and violin performance.

Music Among Us One of the ways Arcella and Hedding launched their initiative, in 2018, was by offering weekend classes in Ochil, and later Temoz n, to children aged 5 to 18 as part of a project they called M ul Paax, which means music among us in Maya. Divided into three groups by a
LINK: https://www.berklee.edu/berklee-now/news/rap-and-roots...
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