Spanish French English

Episode 63: Rap originario (Indigenous Rap)

By Duolingo on Thu 30 Jul 2020

A young Mexican man discovers that he can use rap as a tool to help save his native language. But can he convince a new generation to love this new form of rap, too?

How to Listen

Listen free on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Transcript

Martina: One afternoon in 2015, Alfredo Díaz Nabor took the stage dressed in baggy pants, hat, and sneakers, it's somewhat typical of a Mexican hip hop artist. But one thing he was wearing wasn't typical: his shirt. It was embroidered with floral native designs as a tribute to Mexican artists with indigenous roots like him.

Alfredo: Yo estaba nervioso porque no iba a rapear en español, la lengua predominante en México, sino en cuicateco, mi idioma materno. ¿Acaso mi decisión de rapear en ese idioma iba a ofender al público?

Martina: Only 13,000 people speak Cuicateco, one of Mexico's native languages. The name of the region where they speak it is Cuicatlán, which means "Land of Singers." There might have been singers in Cuicatlán in the past…but as far as Alfredo knew, he was the first rapper.

Alfredo: Mi concierto de rap era en el gimnasio del colegio donde estudié cuando era niño. Mientras preparaba mi voz, yo estaba preocupado. Pensaba en mis vecinos, mis amigos y familiares que estaban en el público. Nunca nadie había rapeado en cuicateco.

Martina: Cuicateco, like many indigenous languages across Mexico, is a critical part of Cuicatlán identity — a language that survived Spanish colonization but still needs to be saved, or salvado. As Alfredo took the stage…he felt enormous pressure. As the speakers blasted at full volume, insecurity overtook him. He felt that his Cuicateco was rusty.

Alfredo: Yo quería rescatar mi idioma a través del rap. Pero en ese momento tuve miedo. ¿Y si esto era un insulto para mi comunidad?

Martina: Bienvenidos and welcome to the Duolingo Spanish Podcast. I'm Martina Castro. Every episode, we bring you fascinating true stories, to help you improve your Spanish listening, and gain new perspectives on the world.

The storyteller will be using intermediate Spanish, and I'll be chiming in for context in English. If you miss something, you can always skip back and listen again. We also offer full transcripts at podcast.duolingo.com.

Martina: Alfredo grew up speaking Cuicateco at home. When he was nine, he started listening to rap in Spanish. He fell in love with groups like Calle 13 and Molotov, who included political statements in their songs. He liked them because he could relate to the lyrics, which sometimes touched on the hardships of native communities.

Alfredo: Mi familia no tenía mucho. Yo nunca conocí a mi papá, pero mi mamá era muy trabajadora. De donde yo vengo, muchos jóvenes trabajan en el campo, otros emigran a la ciudad y algunos terminan teniendo malas experiencias con los trabajos. Aparentemente, esas eran mis únicas posibilidades. Pero gracias al rap, yo soñaba con otra vida.

Martina: As a kid, Alfredo dreamt of singing in a language that wasn't really his. With 121 million speakers, Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, but it still includes 68 other native languages and hundreds of dialects.

Alfredo: Las canciones que me gustaban hablaban sobre el "pueblo", pero en cuicateco la palabra es diferente, se dice "Yaav". Yo sentía la necesidad de hablar sobre mi pueblo, mi "Yaav", pero en mi idioma.

Martina: For many years, schools in Mexico didn't teach native languages. Even in the small towns that only spoke Cuicateco and other regional languages, the classes were only in Spanish.

Alfredo: Un día, un compañero de clase me hizo escuchar una canción que sus hermanos habían grabado en español. Después de escucharla, entendí que solo necesitas un micrófono para rapear. Entonces, ahorré dinero, me compré un micrófono y experimenté con mis primeras canciones.

Martina: Alfredo liked making music, but he thought rap wouldn't earn him a living. He wanted to give college a try, and the field that attracted him the most was renewable energies.

Alfredo: Yo decidí estudiar ingeniería y ayudar a mi comunidad. En el 2014, cuando terminé el colegio, la Universidad de Chapingo, cerca de Ciudad de México, me ofreció una beca para estudiar ahí.

Martina: Alfredo officially became the first person in his family to go to college, and with a scholarship or beca. He left his mom in Cuicatlán and moved 400 kilometers north to Mexico City. As school took over his life, rap became just a hobby for him.

Alfredo: Durante los primeros meses, tuve mucho trabajo en la universidad y me olvidé un poco de la música. Pero un día, en el 2015, la universidad organizó un festival para todos los estudiantes. Un día hubo un concierto de rap y yo fui a escuchar.

Martina: In that concert, Alfredo listened for the very first time to members of a movement called rap originario, or original rap. It's led by young Mexican musicians who are experimenting with rap in languages other than Spanish.

Alfredo: En esos tiempos, el rap originario era un movimiento underground. Pocos raperos experimentaban con hip hop en lenguas nativas. Esto era un pequeño género dentro del ambiente cultural mexicano, donde toda la música era exclusivamente en español.

Martina: These rappers were keeping native languages alive by using them in their verses. That night, at the concert, Alfredo met several rappers and a producer. When this producer learned that Spanish wasn't Alfredo's native language, he encouraged him to rap in Cuicateco.

Alfredo: Durante ese festival, yo vi a varios artistas que cantaban en sus idiomas nativos, como zapoteco, seri y maya. Sus canciones eran políticas y me inspiraron a escribir rap en cuicateco.

Martina: Alfredo didn't sleep much the following days. He had to go to his engineering classes and study during the day. But he spent nights writing lyrics and memorizing verses. He realized that in just a few months, he had started to forget his Cuicateco.

Alfredo: Yo había dejado de hablar en cuicateco. Este es un idioma complicado y con pocos sonidos de consonantes. Se me hacía difícil rimar las palabras para escribir mis versos.

Martina: Alfredo finally finished his first song with the help of some producer friends. Composing in Cuicateco was possible. Tired and excited, he immediately uploaded a video of him singing the song to YouTube.

Alfredo: "Cuchí cuvǐ nꞌisi" que se traduce como: "Vengo a decirles". Al principio, pocos la escucharon, menos de 200 personas. No fue un gran éxito, pero sirvió de algo. Un día, después de una clase de ingeniería, vi en mi teléfono que tenía dos llamadas perdidas.

Martina: Two missed calls… Alfredo immediately left the classroom and called back. It was a producer for La Hora Nacional, or The National Hour, one of the most famous radio shows in Mexico. They had found Alfredo's video online and wanted to interview him.

Alfredo: Los cantantes famosos van a ese programa. Yo dije que sí porque eso significaba que el cuicateco iba a llegar a millones de personas. Fui al estudio de radio a explicar por qué rapeaba en cuicateco.

Martina: During his interview, Alfredo explained that the number of people who speak Cuicateco decreases every year, as with many other native languages in Mexico. Of those who identify as native Cuicatecos, only half understand and speak the language. The rest of the population never learned it.

Alfredo: Si un idioma no se utiliza, muere. Las personas que hablamos cuicateco debemos poner de nuestra parte para mantenerlo vivo.

Martina: After the interview, Alfredo understood that rapping in Cuicateco was more than just a hobby for him. It was a statement. He felt that his community lacked young musicians and poets who could keep its language alive and preserve it for the future. He wanted to be that voice.

Alfredo: Decidí que esa voz no sería yo, Alfredo. Iba a ser alguien con un nombre en cuicateco, un representante de la comunidad para ayudar a mantener y defender sus tradiciones.

Martina: Alfredo created a rap name named Yune Vaa, which in Cuicateco means "House of the Wind." From now on, he decided, he would write and perform as Yune Vaa. After polishing his verses, Alfredo recorded more songs, which would end up on his first short album. As his music spread, Yune Vaa's reputation spread, too.

Alfredo: Me empezaron a llegar muchas invitaciones para rapear. La que más me emocionó fue la del pueblo en donde yo crecí.

Martina: Alfredo was invited to perform as Yune Vaa at a festival honoring the native languages in Cuicatlán. It was a long and bumpy eight-hour bus ride from Mexico City back to his hometown.

Alfredo: Era un honor poder rapear para mi comunidad en nuestro idioma. Yo quería demostrarles que hablar cuicateco era un orgullo para mí.

Martina: Alfredo hadn't had much time to rehearse before traveling back to Cuicatlán. His class schedule was so demanding, he arrived in town barely an hour before the performance began.

Alfredo: Tuve que practicar mi cuicateco en el autobús. No tuve mucho tiempo porque llegué solo una hora antes del concierto. Cuando salí al escenario, vi a profesores y alumnos en el público y también a muchos de mis amigos y familiares. Yo estaba muy nervioso.

Martina: Alfredo started to sing…and immediately noticed the crowd was not responding as he had hoped. They seemed confused by the mix of modern music and Cuicateco. Alfredo started to worry. He saw full rows of frowning students, looking puzzled, their arms crossed.

Alfredo: La mayoría del público hablaba cuicateco muy bien y yo sentía que mi cuicateco estaba oxidado. Me preguntaba: "¿Me van a criticar por rapear en cuicateco? ¿Me van a salir mal las palabras? ¿Van a odiar mis canciones?".

Martina: Alfredo decided he needed to get the audience moving. He asked the students to stand up, raise their arms and clap to the rhythm of the music. He looked them in the eyes and started singing in Cuicateco.

Alfredo: Pocos minutos después, todos estaban cantando y bailando. Fue un gran cambio, el público se estaba divirtiendo. Yo entendí que para ellos era una experiencia nueva. Ellos no sabían que se podía rapear en cuicateco.

Martina: After the show, some people approached him. Some of them even knew his mother or remembered him as a child. Older people weren't sure about the hip hop music…but they congratulated him because they knew he was keeping Cuicateco alive.

Alfredo: Mi carrera de rapero estaba creciendo y yo soñaba en grande. Mi ambición era rapear en El Zócalo, la plaza más importante de todo México, para que mucha gente escuchara el rap cuicateco. Pero yo tenía miedo… ¿Había espacio en mi vida para la ingeniería y el rap?

Martina: Alfredo had convinced his hometown that rap could be just as good in Cuicateco as in Spanish. But could he convince the rest of Mexico? He began to dream about rapping in El Zócalo, the most famous public square in the country…it's the ancient ceremonial center of the Aztec culture.

Alfredo: Yo quería hacerles ver a los mexicanos que el cuicateco estaba desapareciendo y que para salvarlo, había que usarlo más, incluso en el rap. Yo puse todas mis energías y mi tiempo en ese proyecto.

Martina: In 2018, three years after his performance in his hometown, Alfredo's dream finally came true. The Mexican government invited him to be part of a concert honoring native cultures…in El Zócalo Square!

Alfredo: ¡Yo no podía creerlo! Me sentía muy feliz. Es un lugar muy simbólico porque conmemora la independencia de México.

Martina: There was only one problem — Alfredo had to perform for 40 minutes straight. He was not used to doing shows that long.

Alfredo: Aunque yo solo tenía una canción grabada, dije que sí. No lo pensé dos veces porque ese era mi sueño. Inmediatamente, comencé a componer otras canciones.

Martina: As before, Alfredo faced the same problem of not having enough time to juggle his studies and his passion. He needed to prepare for his show but he also had to prepare for his classes.

Alfredo: Yo no había practicado y me faltaba experiencia, pero también me faltaba profesionalismo. No tuve mucho tiempo para preparar el show porque había tenido que estudiar con mis compañeros de la universidad.

Martina: The setting for the concert was a big tent set in the middle of El Zócalo Square. There were stands filled with handmade Mexican objects.

Alfredo: No lo pensé mucho, simplemente me subí en el escenario y canté. No pude conectar con el público. La gente se veía distante y fría. Cuando me bajé del escenario, yo supe que no había sido un buen concierto y lo confirmé porque nadie me preguntó sobre el idioma cuicateco.

Martina: Alfredo was crushed. He knew that next time if he wanted to avoid another bad performance, he had to record more music and spend more time rehearsing. In the following months, he produced six songs for a short album titled Dbaku, which is how people from Cuicatlán refer to themselves in Cuicateco.

Alfredo: También grabé un videoclip y fui a muchas entrevistas para promocionar mi música. El único problema era que le estaba dedicando todo mi tiempo al rap y casi nada de tiempo a mis estudios.

Martina: Though Alfredo was proud of his new music, he wasn't making very much money from his career as a rapper. At the same time, school wasn't going well. His grades were slipping.

Alfredo: Me gustaba la idea de dedicarme completa y exclusivamente al rap y, de esa manera, dar a conocer el cuicateco. Pero… ¿iba a poder vivir solo de eso?

Martina: Because of his poor grades, Alfredo risked losing his scholarship. He didn't know how he would pay his bills. He decided he couldn't keep shuffling between rap and engineering.

Alfredo: Decidí concentrarme en mis estudios y terminar mi carrera. Después de eso, yo iba a poder dedicarle el tiempo necesario al rap.

Martina: Alfredo doubled down on his school work. As he became more invested in his studies, he had to pass on some offers related to his rap career. It felt counter-intuitive, but he knew deep inside that he had to put school first — and focus on his music in his spare time.

Alfredo: Todavía componía algunas canciones y cantaba de vez en cuando, pero era solo un hobby. Mi objetivo principal era terminar la universidad. Yo encontré un equilibrio. Después de estudiar lo suficiente, me dedicaba a componer y a rapear y, poco a poco, mi música mejoró. Yo creo que maduré mucho en todo ese proceso.

Martina: A year later, Alfredo had fully turned his academic career around, and was pulling better grades. Then to his surprise, he was invited to perform again at El Zócalo in 2019. He said yes and decided not to leave anything to chance.

Alfredo: Yo preparé el show muy bien. Quería dar un concierto más dinámico y con un mensaje claro: hay que usar las lenguas nativas para mantenerlas vivas. De lo contrario, el cuicateco iba a desaparecer.

Martina: Alfredo came up with a 40-minute routine of hip hop and breakdancing, with a clear political and social message. He wanted his performance to be a wake-up call about the loss of native languages in Mexico. For days, he rehearsed his Cuicateco in front of a mirror.

Alfredo: Yo estaba incluso más nervioso que la primera vez, pero adopté una actitud más profesional y eso me ayudó a calmarme. Me sentía más preparado porque había practicado la pronunciación de las palabras en cuicateco frente al espejo.

Martina: As Alfredo took the stage again in Zócalo Square, he saw thousands of people staring back at him. Here he was again. But he was changed — more confident and focused.

Alfredo: Yo subí al escenario más seguro de mí mismo. Con las canciones preparadas y los versos aprendidos, rapeé con fuerza. Y, esta vez, la gente se conectó conmigo. Dije “Ú saꞌaⁿ yita. Yitá yeꞌeⁿ iyꞌaⁿ yeꞌéⁿ”. Eso significa: "Soy el hombre que canta, que canta para su gente".

Martina: He rapped loud and clear about young Mexicans who need to remember their roots. He was energetic. And this time it worked.

Alfredo: El Zócalo estaba lleno de gente. La mayoría eran mexicanos de diferentes pueblos nativos, todos juntos, aplaudiendo. Algunos hasta gritaban mi nombre en cuicateco, Yune Vaa. Fue muy emocionante y me hizo entender que mi decisión de dedicarme a mantener vivo el cuicateco era la correcta.

Martina: Alfredo made a decision, then and there. He would finish his thesis and look for a job in engineering, but he would devote all of his free time and resources to preserving Cuicateco.

Alfredo: Es difícil no cantar en español en un país como México, pero sé que mis canciones en cuicateco van a ayudar a las nuevas generaciones. Yo sé que las personas entenderán que hablar una lengua originaria es una forma de resistencia.

Martina: Alfredo Díaz Nabor is about to become an engineer in renewable energy sources. He's finishing his thesis — while also working on his first full-length album as Yune Vaa. In his podcast A través del viento, he interviews young Mexican artists and academics rescuing native languages.

This story was produced by "Ado" or Antonio Díaz Oliva, a Chilean writer and translator who lives in East Nashville.

We'd love to know what you thought of this episode! You can call and leave us a voicemail or audio message on WhatsApp, at +1 703 953 93 69, or write us an email at podcast@duolingo.com. And if you liked this story, please share it! You can find the audio and a transcript of each episode at podcast.duolingo.com. You can also subscribe at Apple Podcasts or your favorite listening app, so you never miss an episode.

With over 300 million users, Duolingo is the world's leading language learning platform, and the most downloaded education app in the world. Duolingo believes in making education free, fun, and accessible to everyone. To join, download the app today, or find out more at duolingo.com.

The Duolingo Spanish Podcast is produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media. I’m the executive producer, Martina Castro. ¡Gracias por escuchar!

Credits

This episode was produced by Duolingo and Adonde Media.

Producer: Antonio Díaz Oliva
Narrator & Protagonist: Alfredo Díaz Nabor
Script Editor: Catalina May & David Alandete
Mixed by: Martín Pérez Roa
Sound Design & Mastering Engineer: Antonio Romero