COSTA MESA, Calif. - The NAMMY nominated "Aztec Dances" (Canyon Records) is Xavier Quijas Yxayotl's latest album of tradition Mexica music. The music is both meditative, yet somewhat industrial in feeling; the rhythm is mesmerizing but seldom gentle. While most flute recordings are made to stay in the background, the simple patterns of Yxayotl's pieces refuse to blur and instead come to the forefront of your imagination. Like pow wow drums on this side of the border, the Aztec music can be overwhelming at loud volumes.
Yxayotl, a descendent of the Huicholes, was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. In the 1970s he followed his dream of learning to play pre-Columbian music, the same music that was prohibited for 300 years due to the spiritual impact it had on the people of those times. Yxayotl's journey took him to the mountains of Jalisco and Nayarit in Mexico where he lived with the Huicholes and Tepehuanes for long periods of time. There he participated in the ceremonies and rituals and learned the art of making traditional instruments identical to the instruments used by the pre-Hispanic peoples.
In 1985 Yxayotl formed his group in Los Angeles, America Indigena, which interpreted the music of the Mayans, Aztecs, Tarahumaras, Yaquis, Tepehuanes and Huicholes. He has released five other albums, American Indigena's "Music of Ancient Mexico," his own "Codex," "Pearl Moon," and "Singing Earth," and a collaboration with Robert Tree Cody, "Crossroads."
Yxayotl also makes beautiful, traditional instruments that can be seen on his Web site, and he paints in a style he calls "Surreal-Mystic of Sacred Spirit." He also gives concerts, lectures, and school presentations. Xavier, who has been performing at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park, Calif. for a decade, just had the honor of performing at the opening ceremonies for the Nobel Peace Prize award winners on Nov. 28 in Rome. Indian Country Today caught up with the musician and instrument maker just as he was departing for the ceremonies.
"I have been on tour with Native Trails and Robert Tree Cody. We were in Washington D.C., Atlanta, Virginia, and Chicago," Yxayotl said. "It was a wonderful week and a half, every day we played at a different place. We mix two cultures, the Native music and dance with Mayan and Aztec dance of Mexico, and people like it a lot. They invited me to take six Aztec dancers, the whole group, to Rome for the opening ceremonies. It's a big honor."
Yxayotl was raised in the city, but his family had very deep roots in the traditional ways. Out of seven children in his family he was the only one with an interest in traditional music. As a child he watched his grandfather play the drum with one hand and the flute in the other and it made a major impact on him to keep these traditions alive. "I have a lot of memories of different ceremonies from when I was a kid," Yxayotl said. "At the time I didn't realize how important it was to keep the traditions alive, but when I became an adult it was a big difference, so now I'm very proud of my culture. I live in two worlds."
While Yxayotl likes crossover recordings, and even has one as-yet-unreleased album recorded where he worked with a sitarist from India, he is most proud of his recordings with traditional instruments. "It's very hard to be an artist, but I feel very good about my recordings because I follow my heart all of the time, I feel this is a great way to go. I'm happy with this, tired but happy," Yxayotl laughed. "Nobody else does this because it's hard. I've investigated everything about the rhythms, everything about the instruments, how our ancestors played; I have spent my whole life studying this stuff. In my recordings I never use any electronic instruments. I don't use guitar, violins, or any foreign instruments, only the traditional instruments. In Mayan music I only use Mayan instruments, in Aztec music I only use Aztec instruments, the clay flutes and the drums. It's not for all people, but people who are interested in studying and learning more about ancient music traditions like it a lot."
Yxayotl performs constantly and feels that seeing the instruments in action is what makes his music come to life for people. "The audience doesn't know anything about this music when they come in, but when they see our concerts they learn; we explain everything and we dress in the full regalia, and they get to see what is going on and they enjoy it; kids, adults, and old people too. On the CDs people listen, but they don't realize what kinds of instruments we are playing. When we perform live we have a lot of interactions with the people."
Yxayotl also talked about how he gets different reactions from his performances, especially in California, with its heavy Hispanic population. "Because I was born in Mexico and I talk about the traditional music of Mexico, people who don't know any better think of Mariachis. When I say that Mariachis are not actually playing Mexican music, that the violin comes from Italy and the guitar from Spain, everybody is blown away."
For more information and to hear downloads of his music, visit www.yxayotl.com.