In communities around the world, language is reinforced through music. Indigenous peoples in Latin America are using hip-hop—a genre that is popular among younger generations and emphasizes lyrical content—to amplify the voices of those who promote language revitalization and pride in their heritage. In some cases, these multilingual artists are motivated by their stories of internal migration toward urban centers and the role of organizations that seek to reconnect across generations.
As we celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples on August 9, take a look—and, more importantly, a listen—to these music videos. Together they give an overview of this language movement from Chile to California.
1. “Inche Kay Che” by Jaas Newen
Languages: Mapudungun, Spanish
Singer-songwriter and MC Jaas Newen combines the Mapudungun language with Spanish in her lyrics, calling to defend the culture of Indigenous peoples. This music video was recorded in the Centro Ceremonial Mawidache in Chile, where the artist sings in front of a fire and acknowledge the resilience of Indigenous peoples, reflected in the images of the Mapuche that accompany her lyrics: “Our ancestors are in our blood/ We are still alive, we are present.”
2. “Witrapaiñ/Estamos de Pie” by Portavoz x Luanko x DJ Cidtronyck
Languages: Mapudungun, Spanish
This is a bilingual song in Mapudungun and Spanish by the Chilean artists Portavoz, Luanko, and DJ Cidtronyck. “We Stand Up” is dedicated to the Mapuche communities in South America, who “preserve our culture and language, defending the ancestral territory (Wallmapu). Also, to our Mapuche brothers and sisters that resist in the warria (city), in the landscapes and avenues of our communities.” Watch a short documentary on Luanko online.
3. “Koangagua” by Brô MC’s
Languages: Guarani, Portuguese
The first Indigenous rap group in Brazil, Brô MC’s bring attention to the various Indigenous groups of the country by combining lyrics in Guarani and Portuguese. In this video for “Koangagua” (“In These Days”), the band members carry around a boom box, which ends up reuniting various generations while they sing, “The Indigenous voice is the voice of today.”
4. “Presente y Combativo” by Parce MC, Mugre Sur, Sapín
Languages: Aymara, Quechua, Spanish
Regions: Ecuador, Bolivia
This is the official music video for the soundtrack of the documentary Ukamau y Ké, which honors Waynu rap artist Abraham Bojórquez, who was murdered in Bolivia in 2009. The Ecuadorean artists Parce MC, Mugre Sur, and Sapin pay homage to Bojórquez, waving theWipala flag—representing various Indigenous groups of the Andes—and singing the chorus, “We’re this way, so what?”
5. “Tijeras” by Renata Flores
Although Renata Flores is best known for her covers of English-language pop songs in Quechua, she also sings about social issues, such as bullying and women’s rights. “With this music video, I want to encourage women to speak out against injustice and corruption,” she says. In interviews, she mentions how her grandmother passed on their heritage in Quechua, motivating her to share her love of the language through music.
6. “El Condor Pasa” by Linaje Originarios
Region: Colombia (Antioquia)
Composed in 1913 by the Peruvian songwriter Daniel Alomía Robles, “El Condor Pasa” was popularized in the United States by Simon and Garfunkel in 1970. This version by Linajes Originarios— Emberá brothers Brayan and Dairon Tascó—revives the familiar panpipe melody with lyrics that empower their own community: “All the emberás of Latin America/ Strong and warriors like the condor pasa.”
7. “An Gabdasa / Tuve un Sueño” by Kuna Revolution
Sidsagi and Sarky Real migrated to Panama City at a young age. Today, they advocate for Indigenous languages, promoting them among younger generations. As one of the members of the group falls asleep under a tree in the video, the lyrics recall, “I had a dream, and it told me that we need to recover our past knowledge.”
8. “Lago Negro” by Dr. Nativo & M.C.H.e. & Tzutu Baktun Kan
Languages: Tzʼutujil Maya, Spanish
With “Lago Negro” (“Black Lake”), Guatemalan musicians Dr. Sativo, M.C.H.e., and Tzutu Baktun Kan (Tzʼutujil Maya) raise awareness about the contamination and preservation of Lake Atitlán in Guatemala. These musicians are part of Caza Ahau, a hip-hop school that provides young members of the Lake Atitlán community a positive outlet, where they can learn about the importance of personal and environmental wellness, as well as of diversity and tolerance, through music. They also went on to form the band Balam Ajpu
9. “Xíimbal Kaaj” by Pat Boy and Yazmín Novelo
Language: Yucatan Maya
Region: Mexico (Yucatan Peninsula)
Jesús Pat Chablé sings in the Yucatec Maya language, together with Maya activist, scholar, and musician Yazmin Novelo. This cheerful music video features images of the Yucatan Peninsula, focusing on the children and elders in this region. Pat Boy encourages younger generations to join them, singing, “Here in the Yucatan Peninsula/ Where the Maya language is spoken / You, with the heart of a child, listen to this song / Let’s learn Maya.”
10. “Mixteco es un Lenguaje” by Una Iso
Languages: Mixtec, Spanish, English
Regions: Mexico (Oaxaca), California
This trilingual music video by the California-based Mixtec artist Una Iso features Mixtec, Spanish, and English. Born in Oaxaca, Miguel Villegas Ventura arrived in the United States when he was seven years old. In his new home of Fresno, he didn’t meet other people who looked or spoke like him. He discovered rap at age twelve, and by seventeen he started writing positive songs such as “Mixteco es un Lenguaje” that could represent and motivate his fellow Oaxacan Americans.
The United Nations declared 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages , to encourage urgent action to preserve, revitalize, and promote linguistic diversity. Since 2016, the Smithsonian has echoed the call with the Mother Tongue Film Festival , an annual event in February highlighting Indigenous and minoritized languages across the globe.
Mariángel Villalobos is an intern for the Mother Tongue Film Festival and a PhD student in ethnomusicology at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is from San José, Costa Rica.
This project received federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.
In 2019 we are celebrating the Smithsonian Year of Music, with 365 days of performances, exhibitions, and other music-related programming around the institution. Learn more at music.si.edu.