Hear the Brazilian Metal Band Singing in–and Trying to Save–Their Native Language of Tupi-Guarani

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…

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Native Lands: An Inter­ac­tive Map Reveals the Indige­nous Lands on Which Mod­ern Nations Were Built

The Hu, a New Break­through Band from Mon­go­lia, Plays Heavy Met­al with Tra­di­tion­al Folk Instru­ments and Throat Singing

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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