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Nowhere in any of your high school history courses will there be a discussion of the genocide, U.S. imperialism and oppression that continue to this day in Latin America. And this doesn't surprise Atonal Mictlán, bassist for Santa Ana-based, indigenous, death metal group Tazumal at all.
"A lot of people are ignorant about history, period," he says. "But when it comes to 'Latin' America, history classes here tell straight-out lies."
Of course this gets him angry. So he screams. And screams. And then he screams some more. It might be difficult to understand him, but he has the moral justification to scream as loud as he wants—and you have the musical and political obligation to listen.
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Tazumal (made up of Mictlán, drummer Camazotl and guitarist Necali Ehecatl) is part of a growing movement of Orange County Chicano musicians trying to give voice to the long-suppressed truths of the Latin American experience. Although most of these groups stick to punk, rap or spoken word, the lead-pipe-to-the-eardrums sound of death metal—generally the domain of longhaired Dungeons & Dragons geeks—is the perfect match for Tazumal's rage. And boy, do they rage against the máquina.
It's not so much music as indigenous resistance incarnate: Tazumal's recently self-released album, Not Dead Yet, takes this militant philosophy all the way down to the liner notes, referring to each band member as musical warriors straight out of the indigenous tradition. Behind take-no-prisoners lyrics about the enemies of Latin America (the United States, the Catholic Church and a reprehensible roster of totalitarian regimes, for starters) are lead singer Mictlán's "jaguar growls," Ehecatl's guitar-launched "sonic spears" and Camazotl's furious drumming on the "barrels of flayed sacrificial victims." It's a noise so ruthlessly loud it could topple every church in Mexico City, a.k.a. Tenochtitlán—you know, the ones built from the stones of the Aztecs' crumbled pyramids.
Of course, for people trying to promote a Europeanized Latino pan-culture, such music is downright offensive to their sensibilities. But Mictlán says those people are suffering from historical amnesia.
"People are taught to deny the fact that almost all 'Latinos' have indigenous heritage, that to be indigenous is something to be ashamed of, and to accept everything that Europeans did to the 'New World,'" he says with disgust. "They never bother to analyze why they think like this in the first place—or how such a negative view of the indigenous affects history and how it is interpreted."
Mictlán used to be something of an historical amnesiac himself, he admits. He grew up in El Salvador in a family prosperously middle-class enough to landlord over several apartments. But the Salvadoran civil war ruined everything, and his family was forced to migrate to the U.S., where they were denied refugee status because they were on the wrong side of Ronald Reagan's south-of-the-border witch-hunt. When Mictlán tries to talk to his parents about it now, he gets only traumatized silence.
"I always ask my parents about what happened down there," he says, "but they don't want to talk about it. All they say is, 'That was a long time ago,' and that's it."
It's that silence—and the fraudulent American version of what really happened that drowns it out—that set Mictlán and Tazumal on their mission: making people learn the truth by being too loud to ignore.
"Kids grow up reading history that has absolutely nothing to do with them and that is frequently a lie," he says. "But it's there; you just need the pride and courage to find out."
Tazumal performs with Over the Counter Intelligence, Flatbush, Yaoh, Cuauhtémoc, Resist and Exist, and Scott Keltic Knot at the Unitarian Church, 511 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 505-9975. Sat., 6:30 p.m. $5. All ages.