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Mexican rockers blend punk with indigenous soul

Natalia Cano

Agence France-Presse

Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico   /  Sat, August 22, 2020  /  10:00 am
Mexican rockers blend punk with indigenous soul

Mexican rock band Los Cogelones and young students of a marching band play a song during a rehearsal in Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico state, Mexico, on August 12, 2020. (AFP/Claudio Cruz)

With a unique blend of punk rock, Aztec instruments and indigenous lyrics, five brothers from a struggling suburb of Mexico City are using music to preserve their cultural heritage.

"It has been an adventure," said Victor Hugo Sandoval, 31. "What we wanted when this dream of having a punk band started was sex, drugs and rock and roll, but things just happened as we went along." 

At a recent rehearsal for Los Cogelones in the capital city's Nezahualcoyotl district, the wail of guitars and thunder of drums mixed with the soothing sounds of a conch shell. 

The brothers, wearing traditional Aztec garments, sing in a combination of Spanish and the indigenous Nahuatl language, while young music students accompany on drums and brass instruments.

"In 2012 we began to incorporate prayers like our Mexica (Aztec) grandparents did, and we integrated pre-Columbian instruments into this mix of our present and native past," Marco Sandoval, the 33-year-old drummer, told AFP.

"We like to share music with the kids ... because it's our heritage," said Alberto Sandoval, 30, who plays indigenous instruments like the huehuetl, a tubular drum.

Read also: Dozens of Mexican centenarians beat coronavirus

Grown from adversity 

Los Cogelones are among Mexican bands seeking to preserve ancestral culture through rock, heavy metal or blues.

The band was formed in 2009 in the El Sol neighborhood of Nezahualcoyotl, named after a pre-Hispanic poet and ruler.

When their parents moved to the area the roads were unpaved and the houses made of flimsy sheets of metal.

Neza, as it is known, "is a place that grows from adversity," said Victor Hugo.

Today the district of 1.2 million remains a tough place to live, with high rates of crime, including violence against women, and a dearth of basic services.

The harshness of life there is reflected in the songs of the brothers, whose uncle introduced them to the music of punk bands like the Ramones as well as the Nahuatl language.

The neighborhood has been hit hard by the coronavirus, with around 860 deaths and 5,600 confirmed cases in the district.

The outbreak forced the band to postpone live performances of its debut album "Hijos del Sol" (Sons of El Sol) that was released in July.

But they have already had a taste of fame.

Late last year in the capital's main public square, near what was once the main temple of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, the band performed its song "500 Years," which touches on discrimination and racism.

The epidemic has also impacted their weekly Aztec ritual dance in the district's main square.

Police recently intervened, citing measures aimed at curbing the spread of the virus.

The brothers ignored them and continued to dance, believing the authorities' real intention was to clear the area to facilitate drug dealing.

"Days like these remind us that the struggle is not over. We live in eternal resistance," Marco said.

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