Interview with Mesias Maiguashca

The work of Mesias Maiguashca revolves around this central concern: giving voice to Maiguashca's heritage as a descendant of indigenous American peoples through modern Western musical means. Nina Dante and Pablo Chin interview Maiguashca in anticipation of the world premiere of his new work for Fonema, 8 exercises to hear the inaudible, to be performed on February 24th as part of the inaugural Frequency Festival.

Nina Dante: The motivation for your new work for Fonema, 8 exercises to hear the inaudible is a musical practice from an indigenous people of Peru living in the Ucayali river, the Shipibo, "whose ritual songs have precise origins and recipients, for example: the song of a human being for another human being; the song of a human being for a spirit; the song of a spirit for another spirit." Truly fascinating and fertile ground for the imagination. What about this concept appealed to you so strongly, and how did you structure the work around this idea?

Mesias Maiguashca: Well, being a normal westerner, the idea of conceiving a music for the spirits is somewhat crazy. More so, if you consider that the music of the spirits, if they ever answer, is supposed to be inaudible for us. But the idea of trying to create a music as a mean to hear the inaudible was fascinating to my imagination, certainly, not so for my rationality. But, why always be rational?

ND: You have written several works for voices before, including your Canción de los Guacamayos, which features vocalizations that conjure up images of non-existant birds. In all cases, you are not searching for a "classical" sound from the performers, asking instead for a rawer, more primal sound. What is it that you hope the human voice can channel in your works?

MM: Well, let us face it: European culture has become the rule for science and art, also all over in Latin America. Thus, “singing” means a certain educated form of producing vocal sounds. But the uneducated can also produce vocal sounds, can sing, certainly differently, with other qualities. When I write for the voice I try to get away from “classical singing”, “bel canto”, the european-educated way of singing. The vocal organ is extraordinary, the best synthesizer possible, so to speak. And I am sure there are endless sounds still to discover.

ND: In the case of 8 exercises to hear the inaudible, does the vocalist take on a different role than the three instrumentalists? What is the significance of the metal bar she plays, and in your own words, "becomes one with"?

MM: The spectrum of the metal bar provides the harmonic framework for the composition. Its sound is often mixed to the voice, in which case they intermodulate each other. They become thus a unity, a link in the attempt to access the spiritual world.

Pablo Chin: When we were discussing the instrumentation of the piece you ended up suggesting a resemblance between the final combination (voice, flute, guitar and accordion) and traditional Latin American groups. When looking at the score, at first sight the musical language seems distant from the music those popular groups perform. Is there an intention to reconcile both musical languages, or rather to create a friction that may open expressive territory?

MM: In fact, in the vallenato, a very popular form of music in Colombia, the instrumental basic combination consists of voice and accordion and includes often also guitar, wind instruments, percussion, etc. It creates a particular “sound” given by the instrumental combination, it has an “aura”. It is certainly not the musical material which I recall in the composition, but rather its “aura”. It creates spaces, which, as you say, may open expressive territory.

PC: What do you see as possible risks and benefits in exploring Andean indigenous sources through a medium that has roots in a Western musical practice? Having split your life between two seemingly distant scenes (Germany and Ecuador/Western Europe and Latin America) how would you describe the impact of your work on both cultural scenes?

MM: Well, two key words for the world of today (let us read the newspapers) are “emigrant” (he who goes) and “inmigrant” (he who comes). We are dramatically witnessing daily their presence and conflict in Europe and certainly in the United States as well. I am both, emigrant and inmigrant. In fact, who is not? And as such, I am trying to create a cultural language based on the language from where I come and confronting it with the language from where I have arrived.

Note from ND: Maiguashca's program note for his Canción de la tierra illuminated much of his work and thinking for me. You can read the translated text here.

Sound and Video Links
Boletin y Elegía de las Mitas
Canción de la tierra

This collaboration and performance are made possible by The Frequency Festival, Chicago's Goethe Institut and the Renaissance Society.