Music Review

An Inspired Life: Xavier Quijas Yxayotl

In late 2013 Xavier Quijas Yxayotl—Huichol composer, musician and artist—shared his life story with me. It was a real privilege to hear of his origins, struggles and inspirations. The thing about Xavier is that you’d normally never know the details of his backstory. But maybe you would pick up there’s something deeper. He carries a sense of humility that typically only comes by having gone through hard times…survived…and having instilled great meaning in his life, touching others through his craft and presence.

Xavier Quijas Yxayotl

Portrait of Xavier Quijas Yxayotl with one of his handmade ancestral flutes. ©2015 Barry Wolf. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

With permission I turned his disclosures into a narrative that was picked up in 2014 by Still Point Arts Quarterly for their Fall 2015 issue. I thank editor Christine Cote for giving this important story space. I can now share the story in its entirety here as Xavier told it to me. I hope you are as inspired as I was.

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 Through the Dark

 The boy fidgeted. He was in foreign territory, held prisoner by his mother’s hand on his arm. They sat side-by-side in matching chairs before the great divide of a massive desk. His mother’s voice rose and fell. Words tumbled over each other as though, if she didn’t get them out fast enough, the man considering them would summarily swat them out the door, no different than pesky insects.

An hour before, his mother pulled him along inner city streets into a massive building. They finally stopped in front of one door among several down the long hall. She smoothed her skirt and combed fingers through his black hair. With a deep breath, she opened the door. The secretary looked up.

“Please, I would like to see the director,” his mother said.

“Do you have an appointment?” The secretary appraised them, noting their dusky skin and worn clothing. When she shook her head, the secretary motioned them to a row of chairs against the wall and picked up the phone. They waited.

The man behind the desk was impeccably dressed in a gray suit matching the color shot through his dark hair and mustache. The lines in his face softened as he listened, shifting attention from the Indian woman before him to the boy, eyes downcast, clutching a notebook in his lap.

“Maestro Caracalla, I am Señora Isabel. This is my son Xavier. He’s different, a good artist. In school he always fights because no one understands him, not the teachers, not the other kids. He’s always thinking. Since he was old enough to hold a pencil, he always draws and writes about everything. He’s like an old person in a little boy’s body!”

The woman continued at length relating how, in the last two years, her son kept running away to live on the streets. Xavier slept in parks, skipped school, survived by selling newspapers and shoe shines. Terrified, she would search and drag him home, if she was fortunate to find him. But the next day he’d be gone again. He wouldn’t do what his father wanted: to set aside these silly pastimes, to work making shoes to help support the family.

“We have seven children. Xavier is the youngest boy. We are very poor. But he is so different and I’m afraid what might happen to him. Is there something you can do?” She finished softly.

Maestro Caracalla gestured to the boy’s notebook, “Is this your work?”

Xavier froze in his chair and prayed to disappear. He didn’t think the Maestro would hit him like his father did, but he dreaded the reprimand he knew would come. He whispered, “Yes.”

“Show it to me then.” The room was silent save the sound of Maestro Caracalla slowly turning pages after scrutinizing each one. Finally he closed the book. Looking over wire-rimmed glasses, his eyes seemed to bore into Xavier’s very soul. He gazed at Señora Isabel then back at the boy, whose reddened face was moist with sweat. “Señora, I don’t think you have any idea what a beautiful child you have. What ideas! His writing doesn’t match his age. He’s not a normal child. You have to do something with him. We have to help him!”

Maestro Caracalla told her to bring the boy back the following Monday, handing over a long list of art materials to buy. There’s not enough to eat! How can we buy art supplies? Guilt flooded Xavier’s mind. He was certain of a dead end. But at the appointed time his mother delivered him to the Maestro. She could only muster a clean new drawing tablet and 6B pencil, keeping even that small expenditure hidden from her husband. The secretary ordered a sandwich for Xavier, although he said he didn’t need anything.

“Ah, there you are,” the Maestro swept in from his office. He took Xavier by the hand and led him down the hall. They stopped in all the classrooms where he spoke to the teachers, “I want to introduce Xavier. He’s coming to take classes.”

That is how an eleven-year-old Huichol Indian boy from the streets came to attend Escuela des Artes Plásticas, the art school in Guadalajara, Mexico—the youngest pupil ever to sit alongside regular university students. They became his peers and friends. Maestro Caracalla continued as his benefactor for six years, making sure he had all the classes he needed: writing, painting, art history and more…

Xavier Painting 1

Painting by Xavier at the age of 18. Photo courtesy of Xavier Quijas Yxayotl. All rights reserved.

 

Xavier painting-2

Xavier with one of his painted pow wow drums. Photo courtesy of Xavier Quijas Yxayotl. All rights reserved.

Continue reading Xavier’s story here and find out how he returned to the Huichol roots denied him as a child, and went on to resurrect ancient instruments lost to time through visitations from his ancestors.

Categories: Indigenous Wisdom, Interview, Music Review, The Writing Life, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Music Review: A Deeper Surrender – Kirtana

A Deeper Surrender

Eleven years ago I received this CD as a gift, and it never gets old. I was embarking on a solo camping trip up to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The friend who gave it to me hoped it would help hold the intent of the trip—and indeed it did!

 The sweetness of Kirtana’s voice is enough in itself, and the love songs she sings automatically touch something inside. When I realized that she was disclosing the nature of her relationship with the Divine Beloved, it deepened the effect even more. Throughout my journey north and then home, this sacred music compelled me to witness evidence all around me and within me of That which permeates everything.

Available on Amazon, iTunes and CD Baby.

Categories: Gratitude, Music Review, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Music Review: Mayan Ancestral Music by Xavier Quijas Yxayotl

xavierqy

Kenosis Spirit Keepers was privileged to sponsor Xavier Quijas Yxayotl in September 2013 for our Spirit Keepers Series held in Phoenix. Xavier is a composer, ritual musician, artist, healer and more. A gentle man of Huichol/Azteca lineage, I’m not sure I’ve met such a multi-talented person who practices his many arts with such humility.

His music carried me beyond this world to another realm entirely. Those nights I slept more soundly than I had in months. Every unique sound—raindrops, wind, birds—are made through instruments he made with his own hands, not environmental recordings. I was able to witness the vast array of clay flutes, whistles and other percussion instruments that comprised his compositions, all adorned with symbolic art.

He first learned to play the flute through his Huichol grandfather as a child, and shortly after began to make his own instruments. But there’s more. In the 1970s, he was called to resurrect ancestral ceremonial instruments destroyed and outlawed during colonial times. Many people are making such instruments now. But back then? No one. How does someone do so when no one else has—and all but a little documentation was obliterated?

I said to Xavier, “Did the calling and ways to make the instruments come to you in dreams and visions?” He confirmed what I sensed. Such things often occur in Indigenous traditions whether to ritual musicians, weavers, midwives, healers, those who hold prayers in varying ways. He also told me, “When I am playing my music, I can often feel my ancestors there standing next to me.”

Xavier has been nominated several times for the Native American Music Award, played at the Nobel Peace Ceremony in Rome, featured on PBS and countless other accolades. For the movie Apocalypto, Mel Gibson contacted him to make the historic instruments used in the movie. Due to union rules, Xavier couldn’t appear in the movie, but he taught the actor-musicians how to play the instruments he made.

We are fortunate that Xavier has a number of CDs available, aside from from Mayan Ancestral Music. You can go to CD Baby to play sample tracks and purchase. Also available on iTunes.

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Our next Spirit Keepers Series program will feature Laura Alonzo de Franklin, curandera (healer/spiritual guide) of Mexhica/Aztec lineage. Mark you calendar for September 26-27, 2014 and join us in Phoenix. Check back for more information soon.

 

 

 

Categories: cultural interests, Healing, Indigenous Wisdom, Music Review | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Unexpected Music

Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges

We were exploring Le Marais district when I remembered one of my favorite places. Ah yes, just a short distance away. I succeeded in persuading my friends they really must experience the oldest square in Paris. We turned down a side street that opened into Place des Vosges. Its elegant French classical façade spoke to the aristocracy that once lived above the arcades below. It didn’t take much to imagine Victor Hugo striding along anxious to be home to continue penning his novel of the moment. We noticed a bistro just in time for lunch. Salad, cheese, bread and wine somehow tasting so much better than it ever did at home.

Exiting, we started to round the corner that would take us out of the square when we noticed activity across the way under the arches. Some ten or so people setting up—a musical ensemble! We edged closer to watch. A few others began to gather. The discordant sounds of musicians tuning their violins and cellos ensued. And ensued. And ensued. Until finally my friends were getting impatient, wanting to leave. Oh no! Just a few more minutes, I was saying in my head. Feeling the tug of the group, I started to turn away with them.

And in that moment, the cacophony stopped. A split second of silence brought chaos into perfect order as the haunting strains of Pachelbel’s Canon filled the air. The acoustics amplified the notes to such a degree that we were enveloped, rooted in place. The beauty of the moment was overwhelming. I didn’t want to move from that spot. The energy continued to rise as they went on to play Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi. Thankfully, a violinist broke away and began offering CDs. I gladly purchased one and then discovered their name: Classique Metropolitain. What an unexpected gift, an extraordinary dessert, one we wouldn’t have had if we’d not been willing to pause.

Now when I play their recording, especially when I paint, it takes me right back to that split second of perfect order when my spirits soared—to experience it all again, gaining inspiration. Only much later did I discover that Classique Metropolitain regularly frequented metro stations and Place des Vosges playing to passersby, perhaps to lend pleasure to their day.

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On a nearly annual basis, I sponsor a spiritual travel program called Entering the Maya Mysteries in the Chiapas region of Mexico.  I usually go in January and we spend several days in the highlands participating in ritual and religious festivities for San Sebastián. One particular year music was a thread that ran through our time together—sacred and celebratory, vocal and instrumental—something to be expected considering our itinerary. But it was unexpected music, taking the edge off a situation and lifting our spirits or instilling a hush to any tumbling thoughts, that I most savored and have tucked away in that same place where Classique Metropolitain and Place des Vosges reside.

Lalo Ed Adams lives in New Jersey. Some years ago his search for someone going to Piedras Negras brought him to me. He joined our travels, in the process discovering a new name that he wore proudly. On his second trip with me, Lalo came along again wearing the glow I saw develop on the first one. Early on, he brought out a guitar saying he’d learned to play a couple of years ago and now gathered weekly with guitarists back home. During our days staying at El Panchan outside the Palenque ruins, he inched his way from casually playing at our table at Don Mucho’s Restaurant—until fully on stage with microphone and sound system going! I admired his chutzpah and his playing.

One thing about Lalo was that he understood how music can intervene and shift the energy in a moment. We’d been on our way to the Lacandón Jungle village of Najá anticipating the upcoming ceremony with Don Antonio Martinez when the van began to hesitate and sputter. Our driver was worried. “Bad gas,” he said, finally pulling over. We all bailed out; it appeared there would be a long wait while the situation was remedied. It was hot. We were in the middle of nowhere milling around on the side of the road.

Lalo Ed Adams

Lalo Ed Adams (2nd from right).
Photo credit: Bob Moore

It didn’t take long before Lalo pulled out his guitar. I finally couldn’t resist. I joined in with what he later called my “vocal chops”—that hadn’t been let loose in years. Some of the others chimed in until we had a plein air concert of sorts going. It turned a difficult situation to a light one full of fun. We continued to find moments to sing, all the way up to our closing dinner when we essentially took over a restaurant, and the other patrons joined our musical frivolity that ranged from “I Shall Be Released” to “Nowhere Man.”

But backtracking a bit, the latter half of our journey we stayed in San Cristóbal de las Casas in the Chiapas highlands. While we were visiting Na Bolom I heard faint notes of piano music and wandered into a room. Beautiful, I thought. Taking note of the pianist but not wanting to disturb, I examined the religious icons in the room. At leaving, I saw a poster announcing Richard Pierce Milner as the current artist-in-residence with evening concerts being held regularly. In the next day when we were in the Maya village of Zinacantán witnessing the raucous festivities for San Sebastián, I noticed the pianist there with a friend. This time I made sure we met and, on a whim, invited him to come with us. We were on our way to Don Xun Calixto’s home above San Juan Chamula where a special ritual awaited us. In return, I joked to Richard, I must have a concert.

Indeed. A few nights later, after the group had flown home, I went back to Na Bolom. At one time, before it had been the home of Frans and Trudy Blom, or a museum, the old hacienda had housed a seminary. One long room still bore reminders of that time, an altar at one end, religious paintings on nearly every inch of wall. But a grand piano at the other end dominated the space.  The only light source was candlelight. I took a seat. Richard began to play. And I was transported.

Richard Pierce Milner

Richard Pierce Milner at Na Bolom.
Photo credit: Carla Woody

Truly, Richard’s compositions are hard to categorize, a blend of neo-classical and crossover jazz as descriptor not at all doing them justice. What do you say about pieces that snatch you up to share a deeply personal journey with the artist? That wend their way through memories of a moment by the sea, a difficult healing process, or tribute to a mentor now passed? That touch on something not often touched? I can only say that Richard exposes his innermost feelings through his music and extends an invitation for listeners to join him. As I write these words, piano solos from his CD entitled Other Ways of Knowing are taking me back to that candlelit time at Na Bolom when I first heard him play.

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 In these times when so much of life is artificially structured, perhaps even constricted, that we can no longer breathe, do moments other than that—should we allow them—create openings. Chance encounters, courage mustered, intuition followed, and willingness to engage possibilities provide a distinct loosening that allows us to take flight. For me, unexpected music, especially when I find it within myself, has been a theme that has provided a springboard.
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   To see what other bloggers have posted in response to the Daily Post Writing Challenge: Moved by Music go here.
Categories: Creativity Strategies, Music Review, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Review: “The Shaman’s Heart Program” and “Nada Terma”

In November 2008 Byron Metcalf and Mark Seelig generously gave of their time and talents to perform to a very appreciative crowd at our annual Kenosis Spirit Keepers Benefit Concert. If you were there you’d need no introduction to their work that takes you into another realm entirely. I’d like to revisit the reviews I gave at that time so that new readers are also aware.

Nada Terma CD CoverNada Terma

Music by Byron Metcalf, Mark Seelig and Steve Roach

Byron Metcalf is an international recording artist who happens to live in my area. I had the good fortune to sample Nada Terma in his studio with all its high-quality sound technology — and the effect was memorable. The music itself was mesmerizing. What was so surprising were the vibrations it produced in my body, and the field surrounding it—that took me even deeper into the experience. Something totally unexpected.

I confess that I have about a 30 year-old sound system and no headset. So I was skeptical that the music would produce anywhere near the same result in my own home, but I was wrong. It was close in comparison and different segments of the CD generated energy movement focused in separate energy centers in my body.

Nada Terma is an immersion in mysticism through sound and vibration. The merging of ambient music, Tibetan-like toning and bansuri flute has an undulating quality that delivers the listener to a threshold. So that, when the gentle drumming finally appears, it’s a vehicle that delivers you into a sacred inner landscape. And then its rising insistence keeps you there.

Just as a writer or artist must embody their subject in order to convey it masterfully, it’s evident that Metcalf, Seelig and Roach have experienced deep states of consciousness themselves. We are fortunate that, through their grasp of these inner realms and trance music, we can be guided to such a place ourselves.

Nada Terma is translated as: discovering spiritual treasures through the world of sound—and it is that.

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Categories: Healing, Healthy Living, Meditation, Music Review, Spiritual Evolution | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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