I drew this conceptual map together with Ivan Bringas, a Mexican improviser guitarist with whom I made up XIPE.
It is very much possible that the connections that each of us weaves between one word and another are not the same as they are rooted in different cultures and experiences, but that is the beauty of it.
It is with this same spirit that we give this map to the readers: weaving their own connections and telling their own story.
Last July, we were in residence at Hangar, a research center for the arts in Barcelona. We were there with the task of curating the Audio Formal Programme and developing our duo project, which straddles improvisation and many other things, since what we share is a very strong interest in music of oral tradition and anthropology, or rather, in that new anthropology that moves beyond the human, towards the animal, towards forests, towards mushrooms…
Because of the covid, that edition of Audio Formal did not take place, but much of the research we did during the residency is within this map. The title we came up with for the programme, which included ALMARE collective and Lithuanian performer Arma Agharta, was Mytho(sound)poesis.
Myth is a form of shared orality, it can evolve continuously and never assumes the prescriptive and univocal status of the written word.
For this reason it is akin to all processes that contemplate practices of freedom such as improvisation, the proliferation of stories, the integration of multiple points of view.
We wrote: Mytho(sound)poesis draws a framework focused on the relationship between sound practices and the production of worlds, people and communities to come – often drawing on residual and emerging cultures – in a co-extensive vision between imaginary pasts and futures.
Following the cancellation of the final concert, Hangar decided to support us by giving us a financial contribution for a record production, and – here we are ! – a few months later with our first album, Nepantleras, produced by a musician who is an absolute reference for us: Elliott Sharp…and released by his label zOaR Records.
Nepantla means several things: first of all, it is a Nahuatl word meaning “in between”, it can be described as a liminal space where multiple forms of reality are viewed at the same time. Nepantleras are beings whose lives reflect an idea of transition and passing. This concept can be useful when addressing multicultural groups of people, where finding consensus can be difficult.
Nepantla has also been identified as a tool for political change: individuals who live within two different “worlds” or “cultures” can act as a “fulcrum” to engage in political change. It is also a toponym to describe new urban agglomerations that arise between the city and the countryside, or the place where two rivers meet.
It is a space of mutuality and fusion… It can also depict that organic mixture of Catholicism and pre-hispanic rituals that is very common in Mexico.
Having grown up in Italy, this reminds me of similar things like the devotion to Black Madonnas (that are Christian images of the pagan goddess Cybele), or the habit of Italian Roma communities to mix their cults with some acquired ones, such as the veneration of Santa Rosalia, in Sicily.
Gloria Anzaldúa writes about Nepantla in the context of the writing process. In her book Borderlands/La Frontera, she says: “it is one of the stages of writing, the stage where you have all these ideas, all these images, sentences and paragraphs, and where you are trying to make them into one piece, a story, plot or whatever—it is all very chaotic.” Nepantla is the imaginary world of its creator and encompasses historical, emotional and spiritual aspects of life… as a term it could also refer to living in borderlands or being at a literal or metaphorical crossroads.
As a white, european person, I am aware of my privileges and of the strong risk of cultural appropriation that you can commit when referring to cultures that are not your own, although I am sharing this reflection with Ivan, who is from Mexico City.
Yet, as a western person, I think it is a relevant act to choose to refer to a concept from another epistemology to define yourself.
Are western discourse and its categories really the only tools the world has to talk about identities?
There are an infinity of other epistemologies and these are not the “edge” of that discourse. They can become central if we recognize ourselves in them.
We all live in the middle of many different things…we are all bastards and fluid in some measure and we should all be able to assert ourselves as Nepantleras because Nepantla is not a category but an ethogram… it is the possibility of always defining ourselves as at a crossroads.
Going back to our album. . . Nepantleras is a collection of nine tracks that originate from images: in some cases we try to imagine the sound of imaginary folk instruments, in others the sound arises in relation to the observation of existing practices that precede the colonial world, such as the flight of the Mexican voladores (this is how the composition came about, improvising with voice and Ivan’s Guitarra Expansiva and thinking about voladores’ rotations).
In other tracks we tried to find the voice of other species, such as plankton or monoecious plants (plants that have both male and female flowers).
The core idea is to draw new threshold cosmogonies and putting them out as oral music