UC Riverside professor Dr. Xóchitl Chávez gave a lecture on cultivating trust and collaboration through collective songwriting at El Centro Chicano y Latino on Thursday. Chávez is a scholar of expressive culture and performance specializing in Indigenous communities from southern Mexico and transnational migration.
Chávez is the first tenure track Chicanx assistant professor in the Department of Music at the University of California, Riverside. The lecture and songwriting workshops, held on Thursday and Saturday, respectively, were hosted by Casa Zapata, Chicanx/Latinx Studies, the Center for Latin American Studies, the Native American Cultural Center and the Institute for Diversity in the Arts.
Chávez shared her current work on second-generation Zapotec brass bands in Los Angeles and transborder relationships with the bands’ communities of origin in Oaxaca, Mexico. As part of this research, she works closely with the Banda Femenil Regional “Mujeres del Viento Florido,” an entirely female brass band from Sierra Mixe in Oaxaca, Mexico.
The aim of the collaboration with the Indigenous female brass musicians and activist scholars was to employ a “feminist decolonial Indigenous approach,” according to Chávez. The band acknowledges female musicians in a traditionally male-dominated field and engages “Indigenous women’s worldviews and everyday practices,” Chávez said.
Through the collaboration, Chávez also noted how the Indigenous women in the group have “maintained their networks and expanded their efforts across international borders.”
Collective songwriting does not require any musical knowledge, Chávez said, but it does require active participation to “create knowledge that empowers the participants through this production of knowledge.”
Despite music being a central aspect of Oaxaqueñan culture, there are limited opportunities for women to participate. The band provides a space for Indigenous women to participate in Oaxaqueñan traditional music and combat gender inequalities. In addition, the band centers the native languages of the Mixe and Ayuuk communities and gives these communities the opportunity to “take their language back,” as emphasized by Chávez.
Chávez played snippets of the band’s songs “Mujeres” (Women) and “Canciόn Sin Miedo” (“Song without Fear”). “Mujeres” recounts the resilience of the band and pays tribute to women before them for paving the way. The song highlights the members’ efforts to support each other and empower the next generation of musicians.
Agradecemos a las que abrieron el paso y a las que vendran despues / We thank those who opened the way and those who will come after
La ayuda que nos brindamos tocando juntas como mujer / The help we give each other by playing together as a woman
The Mujeres del Viento Florido band has also had the opportunity to collaborate with well-known Latina musicians such as Vivir Quintana, Mon Laferte and Alejandra Robles. Quintana’s “Canción Sin Miedo” is an example of how the brass band’s collaborations aim to call attention to issues impacting women and empower their communities through singing in their Indigenous language.
Canción Sin Miedo
Cantamos sin miedo, pedimos justicia / We sing without fear, we ask for justice
Gritamos por cada desaparecida / We scream for each missing
Que resuene fuerte “¡nos queremos vivas!” / Let it resound loudly “we want each other alive!”
Que caiga con fuerza el feminicida / Let femicide fall hard
“Canción Sin Miedo” is a “form of resistance by taking back their language and demanding action against femicide in Mexico and violence against women,” Chávez said. The song reflects her findings on how music gives these women a tool to use their voices and speak up on the issues impacting their lives.