The indigenous languages spoken in Brazil number around 170, a testament to the survival of tribal communities nearly wiped out by colonialism and commerce. Yet 40 of those languages have fewer than 100 speakers, and many more are declining rapidly. For linguists, “it’s a fight against time,” Luisi Destri writes at Pesquisa. Researchers estimate most, if not all, of these languages could disappear within 50 to 100 years, and some believe 30 percent might fade in the next 15 years.
“Knowledge is passed down from generation to generation,” says Luciano Storto, professor of linguistics at the University of São Paulo, “mainly through narratives told by the oldest and most experienced to the community’s youngest members.” What happens when those younger generations are uprooted and leave home. When their elders die without passing on their knowledge? (What happens to language in general as the linguistic gene pool shrinks?) These questions weighed on Zhândio Aquino in 2004 when he founded Brazilian metal band Arandu Arakuaa.
Aquino has a degree in pedagogy and his band has been invited to play in schools and lecture at universities. But they do not use indigenous instrumentation and sing in an indigenous Tupi-Guarani language as a purely academic exercise. Raised in the northern state of Tocantins and descended from a Guarani-speaking tribe, the guitarist and singer says, “I [had] very close contact with indigenous culture because of my grandmother and classmates. When I [began] playing in bands, it just felt natural to put my background on it.”
When he moved to Brasilia in 2004, Aquino searched for like-minded musicians and formed what may be the country’s first folk metal band. While folk metal as a category is hardly new (metal has always incorporated elements of folk music, from its earliest incarnations in Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin to the bleakest of Scandinavian black metal bands), most folk metal has been European (and Pagan or Viking or Pirate), and some of it has allied, sadly, with the same fascist movements that threaten indigenous existence.
While Arandu Arakuaa — the name translates to “cosmos knowledge” — may be one of the first folk metal bands in Brazil, it isn’t the only one. Along with bands like Aclla, Armahda, and Tamuya Thrash Tribe, the band is part of a movement called the Levante do Metal Nativo, or Native Metal Uprising, a collection of musicians using native instruments, themes, and languages — or all three in the case of Arandu Arakuaa, who incorporate maracas and the guitar-like viola caipira.
How do acoustic indigenous folk and the electric crunch and growl of metal come together? Hear for yourself in the videos here. Aquino knows Arandu Arakuaa doesn’t win everyone over at first. “People are not indifferent to our music,” he says. “They will love it or hate it. Most people think it’s strange at first and then we have to prove that we are good.”
While intelligible lyrics are hardly necessary in metal, the language barrier may turn some listeners away. But subtitled videos help. Arandu Arakuaa might seem to have a different focus than most metal bands, but in songs like “Red People,” we hear the rage and the resistance to war and depredation that bands like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Metallica — all influences on the Brazilian band –have channeled in their music:
Some of us ran away, we hide in the forest
We still fight
The red people still resisting, while there is land, while there is forest
Everything became different
Our spirits are called demons
Each day less trees, less animals, less histories, less songs…
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness
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