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The magic drums of Aztlan: Ce-Olin at La Cochera Cultural

A night of drumming, dancing and Aztec magic at the La Cochera Cultural center in Ajijic Mexico

The Ce-Olin group brought the ancient music of Pre-Hispanic Mexico alive for two magic nights at the La Cochera Cultural in Ajijic, wowing crowds and filling the neighborhood with drumming and the sounds of rainforest animals. They gave us the magic drums and dances of Aztlan, the name of the land of the Olmecs, Toltecs, and Aztecs before the Spanish soldiers and priests arrived and did their best to eradicate its culture.

Fortunately, they were not successful.  Aztlan lives on in music and dance.

La Cochera Cultural is one of literally hundreds of culture centers, schools, venues, and clubs that teach and support the pre-Hispanic culture of Mexico. They keep the enchantment of the ancient ways alive and vibrant with concerts, festivals, classes, plays. This weekend was a perfect example with a visit by Group Ce-Olin dance and music collective of Chiapas, southern Mexico.

Ce-Olin dancers at La Cochera Cultural literally leave the ground.

Ce-Olin is Sergio Alejandro Gomez Hernández, Jose Marin Gomez Rodriguez, Anahi David Carera, Daria Noemi Gomez Rodriguez, Alejandro Solis Martinez, and the increíble drummer Moa Mahua Solis Velasco. Together they combine ancient musical instruments, modern electronics, ancient costumes and dances to recreate the celebrations that honored the magic Aztlan.

This event was the second annual Festival of Michi-Cihualli, the goddess of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake (a little larger than Lake Tahoe in California). Two nights of music, dance, and film in a local cultural center known for native and fine art, children’s classes, flamenco, and programs to keep the ancient and modern cultures of Mexico alive and part of everyday life.

The evening began with music –  drum-led and punctuated by bird calls, whistles and growls recreating the jungle of ancient southern Mexico. The drums were both modern creations of ancient drums done in clay, and instruments made from gourds and other natural materials. Five people rotated through the drumming, including the focused and intense young woman, Moa Mahau Solis Velasco, who is also the drummer in the Tlanixco Blues Band of Toluca, Mexico. In front of and next to the drums were two tables of clay and wood whistles, conch shells and a long bamboo instrument that looked like a didgeridoo but sounded like  a jungle bird.

The drumming was hypnotic – it was easy to imagine yourself wearing feathers and dancing around a fire while you listened and tapped your feet. Then two children with painted faces walked out into the dance area and dropped pieces of charcoal into clay chalices set up around a ring of feathers. As smoke rose and swirled, the drums grew louder, the jungle closed in, and the real feathered dancers came out.

Jumping, swirling, twisting, and stomping with bare feet on the brick dance area, they kept it up for almost two hours of drumming and dancing, sometimes alternating, occasionally stopping with the drummers to take a breath and enjoy the applause.

Both nights saw dancers entertain the audience as cheetahs, owls, wild cats, and magnificent birds. At one point the audience was on its feet waving their arms in the air and swaying to the beat.  On the first night of the festival the Owl hopped down the center aisle of the venue, engaging with audience members with looks and hoots and head shakes. On the second night he appeared magically on the second story of the venue, overlooking the dance area, spreading his magnificent wings while flashes popped.

Some of the jungle noise makers used by Ce-Olin

The festival ended with the entire crew of Ce-Olin in costume taking a bow on stage to a standing ovation They are on tour in Mexico and raising funds to accept an invitation to tour Europe. I hope they get a chance to tour the US – I suspect they will have huge audiences. But for now, I am just grateful I got the chance to see and hear the magic drums of Aztlan.

Patrick O’Heffernan



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About Patrick O'Heffernan, Music Sin Fronteras (442 Articles)
Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist based in Mexico, with a global following. He focuses on music in English and Spanish that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America, especially Mexico like cumbia, banda, son jarocho, and mariachi. He is also edits a local news website and is a subeditor of a local Spanish language newspaper. Check out his weekly column Music Sin Frontera on Sunday nights.

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