The teponaztli is a central Mexican slit drum inspired by Aztec and related culture. The huēhuētl is a three-legged drum traditionally used in ancient warrior gatherings The electric guitar is...likely more familiar to you.
The use of traditional, lesser-known instruments that rarely leave Central/South America jamming along with metal instruments – in a way that would make Ozzy Osbourne in his prime proud – is the last thing Calgary expected to experience, and yet Cabrakaän is here.
The band is returning to Calgary on Feb. 16 as part of the three-province March Of The Frozen Western Canadian Tour.
The members of the multilingual band, Pat Cuikani (vocals/ocarinas), Nakuset Gould (bass), Alex Navarro (guitar), Marko Cipaktli (drums/harsh vocals) and Paul Belmar (guitar) all share their own story behind what brought them to one another, here to their new home in Calgary from Mexico and why they’ve been performing together since.
What got you into music? What role did it play in your life?
PAT CUIKANI: Since I was little, I listened to my mother sing; I was always surrounded by good music and from an early age and I decided that this was what I wanted to do all my life: make music.
ALEX NAVARRO: When I was a kid I listened to all kinds of music and thanks to my older brother, I learned of heavy metal bands which made me interested in playing guitar. Since then music has been everything to me.
PAOLO BELMAR: I’ve been saying that my mother and my elementary school teachers got me into music, but today I think that music chooses you, you don’t choose it. The role that it plays in my life is the same as the role that the blood plays in my body.
MARKO CIPAKTLI: I learned how to play drums when I was a kid just as a hobby. I've been doing it for over 20 years now and I can't even describe how much joy and happiness music has brought into my life. I can't imagine myself doing anything else.
NAKUSET ANSALEWIT GOULD: I learned to read sheet music for ukulele and basic theory in school, and started seriously playing the guitar when I was about 14. Music has always been something I could rely on, it was there for me through all the changes and hardships I went through during my teen years.
What led you to Cabrakaän? What did you see in the idea at the time?
PAT CUIKANI: When Marko and I met, we each had the idea of doing a project with pre-Hispanic and folkloric influence. Shortly after, Cabrakaän was born — one of the greatest achievements in my life.
ALEX NAVARRO : Thanks to a great guitarist and good friend of mine I was invited to participate in this excellent band. I didn't know them then, but the first time I heard them I was fascinated with their originality and mix of culture in all their themes. When I received the invitation to join Cabrakaän, I accepted it immediately.
PAOLO BELMAR: Honestly, I think it was fate; a long time ago I’ve wanted to play folk metal, but I didn’t find the opportunity because it’s a complex genre keeping in mind the instrumentation. One day I received a message from the band’s previous bass player asking if I was interested on taking the audition for the band. He explained that the sound engineer of my favorite band (Alestorm) was working with Cabrakaän on the new album, so I took the opportunity.
MARKO CIPAKTLI: Pat and I wanted to create a metal band in which we could add elements from our Mexican folklore, but we also love classical music and the operatic sound of her voice in the songs was also something interesting to add to that fusion of elements. So we knew we had something there.
NAKUSET ANSALEWIT GOULD: I met Cabrakaän at Metalocalypstick Fest in 2017, they had played their set and I was MCing the event. I loved their unique music, and met them later at the festival. Pat and I were talking and she had heard from a mutual friend that I was a bass player. She said that they would need a bassist for some Canadian shows in the new year. I was instantly open to the idea, being already enthusiastic about their music.
What brought you here from Mexico, and what do think of your new home?
PAT CUIKANI: We always had the dream of going out to play in other countries. Last year we had the fortune of playing at the Metalocalypstick, since that day we fell in love with your country and your people, they have received us marvelously, we are very grateful.
PAOLO BELMAR: I live in Edmonton, I’m studying for a bachelor degree of jazz and contemporary popular music at MacEwan University, that’s mostly what brought me to Canada. I love this country, but it’s too cold.
MARKO CIPAKTLI: We came here to play at the Metalocalypstick Fest 2017 in B.C. We never expected Canada to be this awesome with us. We fell in love with the country and its people. We talked about staying here and one of the reasons we decided to do it was that Paul, one of our guitarists, was already studying at MacEwan University in Edmonton. It's a cold but beautiful place, and we couldn't be happier with being here.
Why Mexican folklore/Metal fusion? What/who inspired it?
PAT CUIKANI: We love our vast culture and love metal, so we think why not combine these two elements? It has been a very rewarding experience, being able to put in a song part of our musical and historical roots.
PAOLO BELMAR: I’m a follower of the folk metal bands from Europe, the ones that started this genre, such as Korpiklaani, Ensiferum, Equilibrium, etc... I thought it’s interesting combining metal with the folk elements of each culture, so I thought it would something innovative doing that applied to our culture but I never tried until I received the call from Cabrakaän.
MARKO CIPAKTLI: We are a mix of Spanish and indigenous people from pre-Columbian times, so we have an incredibly rich culture and we are proud of that. and we want to share it with the world through our music.
What, if anything, do you hope your music inspires?
PAT CUIKANI: I love the idea of being able to connect people with our legends, our culture and our folk instruments, through a song. I would love to inspire other musicians to make this mix of sounds, both in Mexico and in the rest of the world. Music is the universal language, we share what we have through it.
ALEX NAVARRO : I hope to do more than inspire. I think the idea is to convey different feelings, like that of joy, sadness or anger. That is to say, we hope to magnify and show our culture to as many people as possible and the essential element for every band to achieve — to try to make our fans feel our best.
PAOLO BELMAR: We are carrying a big responsibility cause we come to Canada in representing our country. Basically I hope to inspire pride in the Mexican people and make them notice how important the arts and culture for our nation are and improve the opportunities in our country. And for the people outside of Mexico I hope to inspire them, and have them respect us and be interested in us. I always have wanted to hear something like, “They are amazing, of course they are from Mexico.”
MARKO CIPAKTLI: We'd want to make our people see the real value of what we are and what we have as Mexicans. The soul of our culture. To make them feel proud of who they are.
NAKUSET ANSALEWIT GOULD: I hope to inspire young artists to get out there and do whatever they dream of. Some girls I've met at shows have told me they are trying to get into music or learn an instrument, but are a bit intimidated by the guys or don’t think they could be good enough. I always tell them that they are capable of doing anything they want to, it’s all about dedication and not giving up at the obstacles you will inevitably run into. Music got me through so much and I want to pass that on.
Cabrakaän will be performing on Feb. 16 at Distortion at 9 p.m., a local club on Macleod Trail, with tickets going for $20 at the door.
Editor’s Note: This story has been edited for length and clarity.
- By Omar Subhi Omar