Interview: Hanal Pixan
Belizean schools do not teach our history. To be honest, it is a resurgence of awareness happening right now for our people, who want to preserve their Maya identity in northern Belize.
There’s a chance that you’ve never heard of Belize. It’s a small country in Central America, bordering on Mexico and Guatemala. It’s surprisingly very thinly populated. Pictures make it look like a paradise, with beautiful nature, green forests and sandy beaches. The ruins of the ancient civilizations are also an attractive element. As a small country, Belize also has a metal scene and Hanal Pixan is as Belizean as it gets.
In a country that has only been independent since 1981, the search for roots is still going on. The cultural diversity in Belize makes it probably even more tempting to find out more about this now before tourism and migration completely ruin the artifacts of the past. This pre-Hispanic past is what Hanal Pixan explores in their lyrics. It’s what I am most curious about and Halach Uinik Chuc is willing to tell more about this.
Most fascinating to me is that for Halach the Mayan civilization is not something of the past. It’s still there and deeply embedded in the history and culture of Belize. We keep learning.
E&D: How is Hanal Pixan doing?
Halach: First of all, thank you for the interview, Hanal Pixan is doing good.
E&D: How did you guys get started as a band? You are all active in various other bands. Can you tell a bit about that?
Halach: The band started in 2013 as a one-man band to play extreme metal with lyrics based on the Yucatec Maya culture. As time went by, I wanted to expand so I invited Nojoch Brujo to join the project in 2015. Later I invited Thiago C. We all met through the Internet as they are members of other bands and they liked the idea of Hanal Pixan. Nojoch Brujo plays in Flames of Apocolypse (melodic death metal) and Down in Flames (metalcore). Thiago C plays with Neverchrist (black metal), Crepusculic Shadows (black metal) and we both play together in Kill The Whore (goregrind/brutal death metal). I also have other projects like Sick Mutation.
E&D: The name Hanal Pixan is derived from a particular tradition in your part of the world. Can you tell us about that and why you chose it for your band?
Halach: Yes, Hanal Pixan, which is pronounced as “Hanal Pishan”, is a tradition which is practiced in Belize by people of Yucatec Maya descent. I am a Yucatec Maya of Belize and Hanal Pixan in our native language means “Food for the souls”. It is a tradition done to honor our loved ones, who have left this world and now are the spiritual one. I chose the name because I thought it would go well with the band’s theme. In other words, Hanal Pixan is a tradition to honor the dead.
E&D: In Hanal Pixan you express through your themes and lyrics Mayan history and culture. How do you go about this and can you tell a bit about those themes for people not familiar with them?
Halach: The lyrics are mostly based on the history of my people. Stories of war, which were told to us by our grandparents, about the Maya Social War from 1847-1930’s. This is more commonly known as the Caste War. Also about how the culture is today, the traditions, folklore and our daily struggles etc. So it is basically what I see every day and what our grandparents have told us.
Hanal Pixan’s music is mostly based on the last rebellion of the Yucatec Maya from 1847-1930’s to retake their lands which were stolen by the Spanish. This rebellion happened 300 years after the conquest when the Spanish reached the Yucatan peninsula. The Maya were able to put a Maya state in modern times called Chan Santa Cruz and were able to control territories in Northwestern Belize and southern Mexico. It was one of the most successful indigenous uprisings in the Americas. My great grandparents were Maya rebels who fought during that war also. So it is a way of telling my people’s history and struggle.
E&D: When you make an album, do you take specific themes and concepts to build them around? For example, your recent album. What story does that revolve around?
Halach: Our recent album name is U K’aayo’ob K’uyo’ob which in our native language means ‘The Singing of the Gods’. This album was more based on the modern Yucatec Maya culture of Belize. While our past album In Lu’umil Belice which means ‘Our land Belize’ was more based on the history of the Conquest of this region.
E&D: How do you go about making music as a band? Do you start with music or words and what roles does everyone have in creating the music? As I understand, Hanal Pixan was originally a solo project, has the process changed as a band?
Halach: Well, the band started as a one-man band but it has changed. In Lu’umil Belice was composed entirely by Nojoch Brujo except the lyrics. Our latest release U K’aayo’ob K’uyo’ob was done differently. The music was composed by Thiago C and myself. For both the albums, I wrote all the lyrics. First, we do the music and then by how the music feels we decide what name to give it.
E&D: What is your message on the Mayan themes? Is it simply interest in the past or a resurgence of awareness?
Halach: First of all, we want to show our Maya youths that we can still use our culture in the modern world and preserve our Maya identity. Also, it is a reminder of the struggle of our people. Many of our themes are basically ignored in Belizean schools. Belizean schools do not teach our history. It is a resurgence of awareness among the people of Yucatec Maya descent from Belize of their heritage since many do not know our history. To be honest, it is a resurgence of awareness happening right now for our people, who want to preserve their Maya identity in northern Belize.
E&D: How does a live show of Hanal Pixan look like?
Halach: Sadly, because we have other musical projects, distance and other responsibilities we have not played live. We have been planning to though…
E&D: I would like to ask you about the metal scene in Belize. What is the scene like there? And how did metal come to your country, what bands pioneered it and shaped the scene of Belize?
Halach: The Belizean metal scene is small and very underground. There are metal concerts two or 3 times a year. The most known metal shows are Metal Mayhem in Corozal and Metal Haven Bash in Cayo. Metal was brought by those who traveled to the USA in the late 1980’s. When they came back they brought the music and the dressing style. Also, MTV in the 1990’s helped the scene develop. Those were the days when MTV use to put metal music videos, not like today. Also, our contact with Mexicans influenced us. I would say that two bands who are pioneers in Belize were Of the Fallen and Lasher Zombie.
E&D: Do you as a band face any sort of censorship or restrictions? And is everything like instruments, rehearsal space, music and venues to play in available to you easily?
Halach: Most of the scene is underground and seems like we do not exist. We do not have any censorship except in the mainstream media. Bands like Lasher Zombie, being a death metal band, have been played for a rock special on mainstream Belizean Radio but most of the time the radios ignores the metal bands. Most Belizean radio stations will not play metal music. Most instruments are purchased from mostly Mexico or the USA.
Space to rehearse is a problem, because of many people, especially religious groups, condemn this kind of music, labeling it Satanic. Venues are also a problem because many do not want metal bands to play in their venues. Most venues used are from family members of metalheads, who are willing to give us our space to make shows. Religious groups have complained to the authorities about our music being too loud and crazy etc. Anyhow, we are still here, doing what we love.
E&D: Are there places in Belize that a metalhead should definitely visit?
Halach: Of Course, The metal events like Metal Haven Bash that takes place in October and Metal Mayhem in December.
E&D: Which bands from your part of the world should people definitely check out (and why so)?
Halach: I would recommend the Belizean Metal bands, so people hear how these bands sound in a country so small and with little support. My list is Kill the Whore (goregrind), Flames of Apocalypse (melodic death metal), Verge of Umbra (rap metal), Lasher Zombie (death Metal), Death Supressor (deathgrind), Of the Fallen (melodic death metal), Sick Mutation (grindcore), Hypnopompia (death thrash) and Zro Dclpine (hard rock).
E&D: From your social channels it seems that even though you are dealing with history, the band is very much in the present and politically aware too. Can you elaborate on that and is there to you a connection between the two?
Halach: We try our best to keep away from politics in Hanal Pixan and just focus on our Maya history. Sometimes it is difficult to ignore politics because they get involved in everything!
E&D: What future plans does Hanal Pixan have?
Halach: Play live is one and the other record a third album. We want to continue doing what we love musically and culturally.
E&D: If you had to compare your band to a type of food or a dish, what would it be and why?
Halach: I would compare it to Pib. Pib is a traditional Maya foodstyle, where it is cooked underground. Why? Because it is a food done for the Hanal Pixan tradition. Pib is very nice, just like our band sound!.
In k‘aaba’e‘ Halach Uinik Chuc ,Jach yuum bo’otik ,Kanantabaa( Yucatec maya language)
Translation: My name is Halach Uinik Chuc, Thank you so much, take care (English translation)