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The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

Bats’i Rock Group ‘Sak Tzevul’ Shares Stories, Songs During Campus Visit

Bats’i Rock Group ‘Sak Tzevul’ Shares Stories, Songs During Campus Visit
Olivia Miller

Meet the members of Bats’i Rock group Sak Tzevul who visited Colgate University last week: Damian Martínez, the lead vocalist and guitarist, Paco Martínez, who plays guitar, Enrique Martínez, the drummer, and Otto Anzures, who plays bass. 28 years ago in the Mayan village of Zincantán, in Chiapas, Mexico, Damian Martínez founded the band with his friend Anzures, and then his brothers, Enrique Martínez and Paco Martínez, joined soon after. The founding of the band also marked the founding of the Bats’i Rock movement that uplifted and blended their Indigenous culture with the genre of rock music. During the week of March 24, Sak Tzevul visited the Colgate community to share their story, message and music. The band’s visit included appearances in various classes, a featured lecture and a concert at The Palace Theater.  

Assistant Professor of History Rachel Newman, who helped organize the event, translated for the band members.

“In Mexico, the state values a dead Indigenous person more than they value a living one,” Damian Martínez said. “The state wants to tell you how to be an Indigenous person, and rock music doesn’t fit their ideas of what an Indigenous person should be.”

For the members of the band, rock music is a form of self-expression and resistance, both of which are closely intertwined.

“In Mexico, the word ‘Indigenous’ is a mechanism of power [that] makes the middle class feel like they have a higher status just because they are mestizo,” Damian Martínez said. “In Mexico, the word ‘Indigenous’ is associated with poor, wretched, criminal, thieving and ungrateful; anything that relates to ‘stupid’ is attached to this word.” 

Damian Martínez further explained that ‘Indigenous’ was a term imposed upon them by political institutions. He emphasized how Sak Tzevul’s music redefines the term, thus promoting pride in Indigenous identity.

“Our form of resisting [is to] show you what it means to be Indigenous,” Damian Martínez said. “We’ll play rock; we’ll play concerts. We can do anything, like get a PhD. Let’s go and change the perceptions surrounding this term and end the shame that people feel [that makes them] not even want to say, I am Indigenous.’ Instead, let’s make people feel proud of their culture.”

These ideas are reflected not only in Sak Tzevul’s pursuit of music, but also in their lyrics. When composing, the band is influenced by their experiences facing prejudice and their complex relationship with the past.

“We had to dig to find our own roots,” Enrique Martínez said. “There is a Sak Tzevul song called ‘Roots and Wings,’ and the message of the song is [to] fly and explore, but take your roots with you where you go.”

The concert on the night of Thursday, March 28, was an opportunity for students to feel the power of Sak Tzevul’s music firsthand. Their music is existential, haunting, groovy, funky, gritty and rebellious all at once. Sak Tzevul’s music is like a river, with moments of stillness as powerful as the intense crescendos. The songs featured a manifold array ranging from traditional indigenous instruments, like the harmonica, conch and a whistle-like flute, to more Occidental instruments, like the electric guitar. Damian Martínez also proved that his voice is truly an instrument of its own as he sang in the Mayan Tzotzil language.

First-year Jude Ramadan, who attended the concert, noted that the language barrier was not a problem.

“I thought they did fantastic. You didn’t have to know what they were saying to enjoy the experience,” Ramadan said.

Something magical happened for the final songs of the set. Everyone jumped from their seats and crowded right in front of the stage, laughing and dancing together. There were kids balanced on shoulders, professors dancing, students cheering and phone flashlights swaying back and forth in a touching display of music and community.

The event was the culmination of a collaboration between many organizations and departments at Colgate, including the ALANA Cultural Center, Africana and Latin American studies program, film and media studies program, history department, music department, Native American studies program, romance languages and literatures department, sociology and anthropology department and W. M. Keck Center for Language Study.

Sak Tzevul also worked with several classes, encompassing both CORE courses and Latin American Literature courses. The band spoke to Newman’s CORE Communities “Mexico” course, Associate Professor of Anthropology Santiago Juarez’s CORE Communities “Maya” course, Assistant Professor of Spanish Juan Manuel Ramírez Velázquez’s “Latin American Literature: Colonialism, Mestizaje and Independencies” course, Assistant Professor of Spanish Osvaldo Sandoval Leon’s “The Many Voices of Latin American Literature: From Modernismo to the 21st Century” course and Assistant Professor of Political Science Juan Fernando Ibarra del Cueto’s “Capitalism, the State and Development in Latin America” course.

Senior Raquel Marquez-Guerrero, president of the Native American and Indigenous Students Alliance, provided insight on some of the other collaborative events between Sak Tzevul and various communities at Colgate. 

“LASO [Latin American Student Organization] worked with our group, the Native American and Indigenous Students Alliance, to provide a student dialogue event that allowed us to watch a documentary and share a meal with the band members,” Marquez-Guerrero said. “The discussions were great and I think our goal all around — staff and students — [was] to create more dialogue surrounding Indigenous communities in Latin America. There is often a lack of knowledge in the U.S. and especially on campus when it comes to any history of Latin American countries, and this includes Mexico.”

Marquez-Guerrero shared her personal experience with the band and the impact Sak Tzevul’s visit to campus had on her. 

“I personally was able to accompany the band in breakfast meals and other events,” Marquez-Guerrero said. “I am Mixtec or Ñuu Save from the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. As an Indigenous woman from southern Mexico, it was very exciting and heartwarming to see other Indigenous people from Southern Mexico.”

Juarez, who teaches the CORE course “Maya,” discussed the approach he has taken in incorporating Sak Tzevul’s visit with his class.

“[Mayan history] is a long and painful history. We talk about exploitation, racism [and] genocide. But by the time we get to [discussing] Sak Tzevul, there’s a greater sense of hope, a greater sense that there is a new tradition here that moves forward to the future,” Juarez said. 

Juarez also credited the success of Sak Tzevul’s visit to Sandoval Leon.

“Dr. Osvaldo Sandoval Leon was the catalyst for all of this, and the residency would not have happened without his drive and leadership,” Juarez said.

The concert had a profound impact on the Colgate community, which Juarez was touched by.

“I was very moved to see Colgate and Hamilton enjoy this moment together,” Juarez said. “It was truly an incredible moment to see Sak Tzevul’s music reach a new audience in such a powerful way.”

Live music is always wonderful in Hamilton, N.Y., but by meeting the members of Sak Tzevul throughout the week before their concert, Colgate students were able to appreciate both the method and meaning behind the music.

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