“The Mayan identity is being eroded every day and it pains me to see children being ashamed and even afraid of their own culture, I believe music can help. This is our way of carrying on with the struggle” — Doctor Nativo
Guatemala’s Doctor Nativo is one of Central America’s most exciting new talents. His music layers Mayan spirituality, social activism, and folk wisdom over a propulsive sound combining reggae, cumbia, hip hop, and pre-Columbian instruments. His debut album, Guatemaya is a call for social justice for his country’s indigenous majority.
Doctor Nativo (real name: Juan Martinez) grew up in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. In 1990, during the bloody cold-war era Guatemalan civil war, Nativo’s father, Arturo Martinez, was assassinated along with five of his friends. Nativo’s childhood, which began so happily, came crashing down. His earliest memories working as a DJ when he was as young as five at his dad’s restaurant, “El Copetín”, turned tragic.
“At ‘El Copetín’, there was always music playing, Salsa, Reggae, Boleros, Cumbias…music was the only escape from the horrors of the civil war that consumed the country for over three decades. My dad was very charismatic and compassionate; he was always ready to help people. He had friends among the Guatemalan guerillas and would often let them use the restaurant for their meetings, sometimes they would even come to the house for food and water because we always had supplies from the restaurant.”
After busking his way through Europe, India, and Latin America, life brought him to Cuba (the country of his father’s birth),to study at the Escuela Nacional de Arte in Havana. Eventually he settled in Barcelona, where he played music in the street, every day, for years, and found his voice through direct contact with the people.
In 2010, Nativo returned to Guatemala, where he attended his first Mayan ceremony and discovered his nahual (Mayan animal spirit), beginning an intense spiritual journey. Two years later, Nativo took a 16-hour ride through mountains and jungle to meet with producer and Stonetree Records founder, Ivan Duran, at his studio in neighboring Belize.
“His songs struck me like instant Polaroid pictures into the soul of a young and proud indigenous generation that had finally woken up in Guatemala. I remember thinking, “There’s hope! The resistance is not dead!”
After playing song after song for hours, the recording process began then and there.
Guatemaya revives the ancestors and lets them loose on the dance floor with such tracks as “Pa’ que se Levanten” (Rise Up!) , “El 20” and “La Voz Popular” (The Voice of The People) celebrate indigenous resistance and popular empowerment, while “Guatemaya”, is a proud assertion of Mayan identity, graced by Mayan-language rapper Tzutu Kan, that’s become something of an anthem among the youth of Guatemala.