Imagine for a moment that you’re the member of a small indie band in Neuquén; one of those independent, self financed ventures. You play a wide array of music genres that range from rock to reggae, from cumbia to folklore. You and your fellow band mates are all Mapuche descendants, and use your music as an expression of not only the rich cultural history of your people, but as a means to denounce the long dated struggle to reclaim ancestral lands from national and private interests.
Locally, you’re quite successful, having sold out, for example, the biggest venues in the city, that can receive close to five or six thousand people, tops. But in today’s world, the possibilities of spreading your message outside of your province are slim at best. Unless you catch a break, like say, having a living legend get interested in your music and give you the opportunity of a lifetime…
The story of Puel Kona‘s unlikely opening gig for Roger Waters on the 6th and 10th of November in La Plata is the stuff of fiction, a truly amazing tale that has to be read in it’s entirety to be believed. Gaby Cociffi, from Infobae, wrote an amazing, detailed piece on it last week. Waters, no stranger to social causes all around the world, has had a profound interest in Argentine causes that began a few years back with his involvement in helping identify soldiers that died during the Malvinas War (again, read Cociffi’s astounding account of this story as well). So once he had confirmed his two dates in La Plata in November, he decided to push for another idea that had been itching him: the Mapuche struggles in Argentina. Again, the rest of the story can be better read in detail in Cociffi’s article, but suffice it to say that it’s something to behold.
With only five days to go until their career defining moment, The Bubble talked to Aamaru Nawel, singer and keyboard player of Puel Kona, about their upcoming show, their career so far and the power of music in changing minds.
So, how are you preparing for the two concerts in La Plata?
We’re going to be arriving at La Plata on the 5th so we’ll only have one day to prepare. We’ve been rehearsing a lot these days, taking care of all the details, technical things mostly. Preparing every second of the show.
It’s only been a couple of weeks since you guys received the news. Have you been able to take in all of this?
This will be the biggest crowd to ever watch us. I mean 100,000 people is something that we couldn’t even have imagined. We’re very happy and fortunately we feel much more at ease thanks to all the work we’ve put in this last week. We want to enjoy the experience, that’s the main objective. We know we’re going to be able to show what we can do and what we’re all about. The countdown is on, so we can relax a bit and enjoy the moment because it’s going by really quickly.
A lot of people think that you guys just broke into the music scene but you’ve been playing for a while now, right?
We’ve been playing for more than ten years, even though we’re not very well known around the country. We’ve been working a lot for a long time with little financing. But there’s always been places willing to let us show what we’re about and let our voices be heard. We have a couple of albums out and we’ve played in a lot of places in front of big crowds. For example, we played with Manu Chau in Neuquén’s biggest stadium.
I believe that those are the things that have given us the experience to face this moment we now have in front of us. Although nothing can truly compare to this, when you think about it. We’re going to be playing before one of the biggest artists in the world.
How did you get into the music business?
I’m 28 years old and we started working on this band when I was 16, so this has pretty much been my first music experience overall. I had only begun to play the keyboards a couple of years before and this was an idea that was born between me and my brothers (Lefxaru and Malén Nawel, both members of Puel Kona to this day). With this project we learned how to play, how to compose, and how to manage ourselves as a band. It isn’t easy but we’ve had the support of a lot of the other bands in the local music scene with whom we share a sort of brotherhood even though our styles are very different.
How does it feel to have this huge opportunity to spread your music and the messages of the Mapuche resistance?
We’re very happy because it’s very important for us that people understand the fight that our people are fighting, the rights that we’ve been demanding for so many years. We were practically raised on the battle grounds, fighting for our culture and our land. It’s been a personal process for us as well ever since we were children. We had to study our language in depth, our cultural background and the music of our ancestors. All that legacy has been weakened and it was important for us to strengthen our hold on it, to make it a core principle in our lives.
Music arises from these ideas in us, it’s our way of fighting on behalf of the Mapuche community through art. Maybe it’s not the most common way of doing activism but for me it has very profound possibilities. Art has a different way of going into people, it has the power of making people see thing in a different light. Ours is the struggle of a vibrant community that is as joyful as it is a fighter. Music is our vehicle for behaving the Mapuche way.
How much did you know about Roger Waters before? Is he in an influence for Puel Kona?
Roger Waters is one of the architects of modern rock and music. He is an influence for any musician. What he did with Pink Floyd and then as a solo artist, I believe every musician should take the time to listen to it. We had all listened to him before, he is an influence for sure. Our music isn’t really rock per se because it’s mixed with many other genres but I believe we’re related to him not only as musicians but because of the way we see the world. We value his commitment to different causes, he can walk the walk for sure. It’s not for show, it’s really something genuine and from the heart, which makes us admire him even more.
We’ve been very impressed with his interest in our cause and how profound it actually is. He’s truly invested in understanding the depth of what we’re fighting for. He could have just put our name on his ticket and just forget about it. But he’s actually made sure that we have the necessary support from the event producers so that we can give our show under the best conditions possible. That’s his doing and his going all in on his help. He’s helping us from a logistics point of view which is where we needed more assistance. We just have to go there and throw a great show.
How do you think these concerts will help you in the long run?
It’s all been very nice but it’s hard to think too much about the future right now. We’re concentrated on the two concerts, showing off our work and enjoying. There’s a lot that has to be taken care of, it’s a very big group of people that have to do their job for it to come out great. Afterwards, we will have to sit down in Neuquén to reorganize our heads.
What is the most important thing you want people to take from your music?
I like to make people think about our cause through a different lens, different to what they may be reading in the news or in the history books. I want them to see another side of the Mapuche people, to see a vibrant community that is fighting for their rights. I want to make them understand that we have no hidden agenda like some corporation, that our fight goes much deeper and has to do with our lives in these areas that we inhabit. It’s a community that fights everyday because of the hardship we face, but we’re also a joyful people that wish to grow and project ourselves in these lands.
Music has that power of showing people other angles and visions of the world. A lot of what we say in our lyrics could possibly be written in publications but music makes you feel something special, that’s why I like it so much. It gives you messages, but in a very deep way