TONOLEC’s music features
in the soundtrack of documentary
CULTIVATING FLOWERS OF THE FUTURE
Official website :
Music Album C.D. :
Our talk with the group was held on October 20, 2010, in Buenos Aires
and focused on the most intimate backstage details of this unusual artistic project.
Charo : Tonolec is a music duo comprising Diego Pérez and Charo Bogarín. We are both composers and have been working on merging electronic music and native music.
Our work started with a field research among the Toba communities in the Argentinean Chaco. That was how we came across Toba Chelaalapi (“flock of thrushes”), which is a choir staffed by 13 adult men and women who since 1962 have taken on the mission of keeping old ancestral songs alive from generation to generation. They embraced us, applauded us, supervised our work as musicians and as human beings while we worked with their musical material, with their tongue, and therefore with their tradition.
Tonolec is a Qom word that means “kaburé”, a bird from the Chaco woodlands that sings at night and whose singing has hypnotic powers.
The legend says that because the bird misused its gift, because it was too vain, the woodland spirits punished it by turning its feathers into objects of desire, in good-luck charms for love. Hence they sentenced the bird to be hunted down by other beings. It gets ugly and featherless, doomed to sing at night, in hiding, and singing its song as an eternal mourning. Such is the legend of Tonolec, of which we heard after taking on the name.
It was the very members of the Toba Chelaalapi choir who told us the story, as a sort of cautionary tale.
We have been working with an ancestral tongue, with its sounds, somehow recycling that which the Toba culture represents. But they tell us : ” The name you have chosen is very good because it is a name that will also demand great caution from you. The moral goes: do not abuse your gifts because that can lead you down an unfortunate path. That is what happened to the tonolec. It was a way for them to say : Be careful what you do because we are handing over a treasure to you : our language, songs, the legacy of oral tradition passed down from mouth to mouth”. They opened that safe and gave us this diamond, then they tell us:” please take good care of it ; you have this gift to relay it to people, so use this gift well and not to your own benefit”. I think this name carries a very heavy load.
Diego : We lived in Chaco for a very long time ignoring this world that was around us and which could teach us a lot.
Then, to pursue our career as musicians, we had to move to Buenos Aires, where the general perception is that human beings can somehow do without nature, that we must proceed with our projects and strategies.
In 2000 we were fortunate enough to win an MTV contest and travel to Europe. In Europe, we performed the music we had been making: a sort of electronic pop. Then we realized we are not European but Latin American, that our roots are here, in a mix of blood that makes us who we are, that we needed a new identity and to recognize ourselves again.
We felt we had to look deeper for the Argentinean roots and our own. We came back from our trip at the height of the Argentinean crisis in 2001. Amidst the crisis, we started a search that had to do with the places where we grew up, Charo in Formosa and I in Resistencia, in Chaco.
That is how we came into contact with the Toba communities and the Chelaalapi choir, from Resistencia.
We were truly amazed by their music, which reflected so well the natural landscape of Chaco where we grew up. We let ourselves be influenced by that music and the Toba culture, which is so full of the wealth and knowledge we are taking part in right now: life in community, respect for nature and for all living beings that surround us. It has been a great lesson for us, personally and as musicians. From then on our work has been trying to integrate these two worlds: the natural world and the world of technology, the organic world and the digital world, keeping in mind we live in these two worlds, which in turn have different languages but which can coexist peacefully in our music. In a matter of speaking, this is Tonolec’s sound : integration.
Charo : We started changing. We came from a place that was not healthy, once that we did not see ourselves reflected in what we had been doing. Sometimes one needs to go back to their origins, look back to find themselves on their own axis.
That is what we had been experiencing as artists. We were out of our axis. We were not reflected in things that were European.
It was a great reunion, not only the fact that as artists we had gone back to our axis but in my case in particular it meant going back to my core as a human being. Besides finding my musical identity, I found my identity as a person, and we were consequently able to convey that in the art that we make, regaining the pride of being who we are, of having native blood, of singing in our languages that have been denied to us for years and years.
Looking back and seeing the road we have traveled we can see that beyond musical forms these people have taught us a way of life, to see the world from a worldview. We believe there is the good seed we need to take back and sow again.
Charo : One of the most meaningful moments was the beginning of all this; the first day we came in contact with the choir in the place they get together to rehearse.
We had come from Buenos Aires equipped with a mini tape recorder, microphones, a photo camera, a video camera… as if to collect information in a rough way, and then we found ourselves in this pleasant atmosphere of adult women and men from the Qom ethnicity sitting down to rehearse. We greeted everyone, introducing ourselves as two young musicians interested in their culture, in their music, and they just looked at us, nodded and invited us to sit by them.
Grandmother Zunilda Méndez, the oldest, handed us goat pezuñitas (small hooves) (a very typical instrument from native northern peoples) and they start singing. Then, following the rhythm, we started singing with them and stepped into this magic world, wonderful and full of energy we had never experienced before; that musical fan suddenly presented to us through the songs of men and women, with the touch of the Toba violin (nvique)…
And so we spent one hour, two hours; I don’t know how long we shared in their singing and dancing rounds, filled with a sort of energy we did not understand by then. We simply had a sense of wellbeing. Diego and I looked at each other and we really could not find the words to describe how we felt taking part in those ancestral songs and in the demeanor of those people of such few words and deep eyes, with another way of seeing and reading the world.
I think that at that moment they also took an X-ray of us with their eyes, they saw us in a way that they kept to themselves and only told us about it years later.
We never dared take absolutely anything we had brought along from our backpacks. At that time, producing a microphone would have been completely inappropriate. They are people of oral tradition, of real time, not from the current times. That is what we went there to share with them: share and enjoy that moment, make the most of everything they could give us as artists and human beings. The objects stayed there, tucked away. It was the first insight we had: that things must be learned in their own time, that we cannot rush, go and record in two hours a material that took them years and years to collect and learn. Respecting the pace of nature is the premise they live under. One cannot rush learning. They taught this way of working on native music, in real time, respecting what learning through oral tradition is: no taking notes, no writing, no recording: we go there and sing with them. That is how we learn their songs: by sharing them with them in real time. So much so that it has taken us 4 years to complete this merger of electronic music as form with the Qom Toba music as content.
Diego : When we started going into all that we realized to what extent the elements of Toba music are extracted from the landscape of the Chaco woodlands: the husks of trees, the hooves of animals, the trunks that turn into drums, women’s songs that have to do with birds’ songs, the singing of the Toba violin, nvique, which in fact means “tiger scratch”, as tigers scratch trees to sharpen their claws. That is knowledge people get from nature and which is directed at nature: songs that have to do with cycles… And cycles also have to do with the electronic element, with looping, repetition. We were intuitively getting to learn about those elements to analyze and assimilate them as musicians later on.
Charo : Each language has its own sonority. The Toba language has a sonority that is guttural, from the throat. It has sounds that sometimes are interrupted by the stroke of the glottis, there are many consonants.
When it comes to singing, the Toba language takes on a dimension that is really surprising. We went there with the model of western language, with its way of pronouncing words, and suddenly found a way that was entirely new.
For instance, Toba women’s sharp singing, on which I base myself: the power that language takes on when we sing.
Through this language, somehow we manage to get in contact with the person that is listening and at the same time I get in contact with certain parts to which I did not have access before, with certain depths that are indescribable, with a strength we don’t know where it is coming from. I feel like I am actually taken to another world that reminds me of dreamlike landscapes where we can do magic things, we can fly, move mountains or go through them. I think that this ancestral, primary language in some magical, wonderful way has this power and this strength. And I believe that that is what people finally realize when they hear the songs. There is a connection that goes beyond understanding and reason. There is a connection with parts of people they are unaware of, or a connection with nature itself that evokes such language and to where we are taken by the sonority of the Toba language. That is finally translated in how powerful this return to original languages is, which have been here for thousands of years.
Diego : People’s feedback is this: they travel, it is a great journey to other lands, legends, myths, things that have to do with a strong connection to earth and nature, with great energy, with a connection to earth that we probably don’t establish in our everyday lives.
Many times our concerts have this feedback, people come up to us and say: now I feel lighter, I dumped on the earth things I could not get rid of before and it was actually a ritual, and that absolutely blows our mind.
What we felt when we came in contact with the communities was that it had to be relayed to the other people who were unaware of it.
It is much like what happens when a child finds out something and wants to tell his/her friends because he/she knows it is important. We feel that somehow we relay such knowledge and serve as a bridge between the communities and the remainder of society.
Diego : Noyetapec is very meaningful to us. It is an ancestral song the choir relayed to us. Noyetapec means “dawn comes”. It was the first song we heard. We got to the community because we came across this song by chance in an album and were really hypnotized by the melody, without exactly knowing what the words meant. In a way, it was the bridge that led us to them. That was the beginning of this 4 or 5 year work that led us to record our first album. The lyrics to this song consist of 3 words that tell an entire story. They say that men wake up in the morning, go hunting and do not go back home until they catch their prey.
Then you analyze the lyrics which actually say :
“Noyetapec” (dawn comes) “to troo-oooo” (the rooster crows) “na sielabá” (man is coming). To them those 3 words tell that whole story. And then we realize that which we were talking about earlier, the symbolic issue, of how 3 words can mean so much symbolically. By repeating that, they generate a veritable feeling, which is how we feel the first time we listen to their music, the feeling we, too, are trying to convey at our concerts.
THE POWER OF THE EARTH :
VER VIDEO: http://www.videos-star.com/watch.php?video=xmC4EfbgVuw&
Charo : To me, “La canción de cuna” (The Lullaby) is the most beautiful song I have ever heard to this day, for its vocal registers and for the emotional content it carries.
It is a song that the oldest grandmothers in the Toba community have passed down through the generations. I don’t know who came up with it, it goes back eons. It was grandma Zuñilda Méndez who taught it to me. Learning it was one of the most beautiful things that could have happened to me. First of all, for the vocal registers it has. The place where your voice is set to start singing is like you were inside a mountain, and then you direct your voice exactly to the center and top of such mountain, the highest you can imagine.
That is the sonority, that is the power of the earth that is there, that is the commitment they have when they sing. You are not on a plateau when you listen to them. With them, you are on the highest mountain top, in the deepest depths of a tunnel, or sailing down the waters of a river. The lyrics go: “sleep, sleep, little child, sleep that your father has gone to work, he went to get shellfish, sleep, sleep, little child, sleep, that your mommy has to weave a net for your father to catch the fish in the river”. That is what the song says, and it also says “quoilala yalcalec”, “quoilala” is bee honey and “yalcalec” is a tiny bee. It is a very soft song, and perhaps one that best represents this community’s oral legacy.
ADA NAWE EPAQ
Charo : “Plegaria del Árbol Negro” (The Black Tree Ballad) harks back to the Qom Toba mythology, to a sorcerer-type story. The legend of the “Ada Nawe Epaq” (Black Tree) says that on every New Year of the original peoples, the supporting beings, i.e. the spirits, resort to dreams to call on the sorcerers and take them to the swamp, in the middle of which there stands the Ada Nawe Epaq, or the black trunk. To climb the Tree they have to get rid of the aquatic beings of the swamp, which are dangerous beings and put their lives in jeopardy. The Ada Nawe Epaq has different levels; the highest a sorcerer manages to climb, the greater his healing powers will be.
Such powers will be handed to him by the elements of nature; powers to heal through the water, the wind, their breath. That is what the legend of Ada Nawe Epaq, the Black Tree, talks about.
Charo : Another song is Rito (Ritual) and it has a lot to do with the way the natives see the world, which is very poetic way, not really wordy. The song says: “let’s wash our faces lest we sleep”, speaking of the water element as something that wakes us up, that heals: “let’s wash our faces lest we sleep, the wind still blows, weeps, weeps, heals, heals, always heals…”
It is an everyday thing we all do, speaking of someone who gets up and goes to the marsh or to the crystalline lake and washes his face; we all do that, we all get up at home or wherever we are, and the first thing we do is wash our faces. We do not realize that we, as westernized as we may be, do everyday things that are rituals, that we do them day in and day out to heal, to keep moving on, to wake up, to start a new day, which is no small thing.
“El rito” (The Ritual) speaks about that, of water as a healing element, that heals and wakes us up.
Charo : To some extent we are the story of that which we have experienced. In my case, I have had to go through very difficult processes.
I was born in Clorinda, Formosa (on the border between Argentina and Paraguay). My father was a militant for Justicialism, regarding the agrarian issue, but he did not carry guns; he fought based on his ideas. He was one of those who disappeared.
We were 3 women : my mother, my sister and I. My mother decided that we should move to the city of Resistencia to leave the land that had caused us so much pain somewhat behind.
I think that those beliefs, those absences, those major blows to my humanity had a lot to do later on with the way I express myself, the way I sing. I am a mother as well ; I have a daughter whose father died when she was one and a half years old. So, mine is a path of much absence ; my landscape is also very barren but there is a lot of strength and mostly there is a message which, to me, is very forward and which talks about the power of mother earth, the power of women, our power as human beings to go ahead and face anything.
That is the strength I find later on as I go on stage to sing and raise my voice, because I raise my voice from the pain, from somewhere deep and a place of learning; not from a place of resentment, not from a place of hate; but from a place of complete belief that despite the blows, sometimes nearly deadly ones we may get in a life marked by fire, we can go on, build for the good, and take a message of hope and strength for the others.