Underscore News / Report for America
Indigenous artists Xiuhtezcatl and Mato Wayuhi are teaming up for their first national tour. As close friends and collaborators, the duo is excited to share their music and art to help spin a new narrative of what it means to be a young Indigenous artist, to redefine what masculinity means to them and to have some fun with their audiences.
The 2 the Moon and Back Tour showcases the duo’s collaborative and solo work. It launches Thursday in Seattle and will hit Portland Saturday.
Xochimilca artist and activist Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh has performed for audiences across the world, collaborated with artists such as Raury, WILLOW, and Jaden, and in 2019 was named Time Magazine’s next 100 for his work with Earth Guardians, an organization that trains diverse youth to be effective leaders in the movements for environmental, climate and social justice. Mato Wayuhi has composed soundtracks for the award-winning FX/Hulu series Reservation Dogs and the feature-length film War Pony, which won the Caméra d'Or prize at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. Earlier this year he was featured on the 2023 Forbes 30 Under 30 list for Hollywood & Entertainment.
Xiuhtezcatl started using his voice to draw attention to climate issues at age 6. Today the 23-year-old continues to use his voice to challenge systems of injustice and create a new vision for the future.
His thought-provoking lyrics, rooted in his Mexican culture and the environmental justice work he was raised in, tell stories of resilience and growth.
“It's my most personal and honest work I think I've ever done,” Xiuhtezcatl said. “I think this project really illustrates the journey over the last few years. Having to look inward, to confront my relationship with myself with my home, with the painful outgrowing of my youth and moving through the spaces that I've occupied for a long time that I felt very comfortable in. That transition out of youth and into adulthood.”
Wayuhi began taking music seriously when he was 16. Recording songs using a video game microphone, he says he found his purpose.
“I just recorded my own stuff with the Guitar Hero microphone,” Mato said with a chuckle. “I was just transfixed. I mean, I found my calling at that moment, which I was really grateful for. I needed some sort of expression, something to expel feelings that I've had and that my family's had and my ancestors have passed. And I had the privilege of expression. I found that through music.”
The Oglala Lakota artist has since transitioned from using toy microphones to composing soundtracks for shows like the hit TV series Reservation Dogs, which will be available for downloads on Nov. 3.
“I'm super excited for the first time playing our own shows in a lot of these cities. Going home, going back and playing in Denver — it’s giving me chills thinking about that,” Xiuhtezcatl said. “So I'm looking forward to meeting a lot of community. I think to me, the best thing about art is how it brings me together with the folks around me. So that's really meaningful.”
Wayuhi and Tonatiuh caught up with Underscore News about the tour, their latest song and what's to come.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
Underscore News: How has music played a role in your life?
Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh: For many generations, they didn't have the space to dream. I see that with poverty being something that holds you back from being able to dream beyond getting your material needs met. I've seen that in my family, as recently as just my father's generation. And my father is an artist, my father is one of the most amazing artists I've known. The space to be able to be creative is taken from you within these extractive systems of capitalism and of colonialism. We're still reeling from it. I would say that despite all that, there's so much light we can shine and opportunity we can create and relationships we can build with other people by lifting each other up. By encouraging each other. By leaning into our creativity. We're still here because people before us dreamed and fought so that we could still be here.
Mato Wayuhi: I wasn't classically trained with music at all. I was kicked out of the orchestra band, I got bad grades. And then because I was too fidgety, I was too hyper, I just couldn't make sense of the structural notation of music. So I'm glad that I found it later in my life, just as a way of expression and freedom and liberation. I think music to me has been a pillar for other opportunities, which I've been really grateful for.
Underscore: Tell me more about your musical journey over the past few years.
Wayuhi: The past year, couple years, have been really insane. It's been like a maelstrom of opportunity and gratitude and trauma and drama. All that stuff. Just a lot of life has been lived in the past couple years. I look at photos of myself two years ago and photos of myself now — I have aged and everyone does, it's just, it's a crazy thing. I've met a lot of beautiful people along the way who've given me a lot of support and insight. So it's been really good. I've been very grateful for it all.
Underscore: What does your music teach you about yourself and the art you create?
Tonatiuh: It's taken a lot to just like, repair and reclaim and understand what my relationship to my own voice is, and what I want it to be. I think this record illustrates the process of returning to myself and a little bit of healing of my inner child. It explores a lot of my relationship to my own masculinity and my relationship to the men in my life and a lot of the brokenness that I see within masculinity in our culture and being confronted with that through experiences in my family and in my community. And as I become a man too, and as I grow out of my childhood, understanding and giving voice to the painfulness of that process and the desire to end many of these cycles of violence and trauma with me. Without projecting or making any big political statements, it's very much like a personal account of many of these things. So it's very personal. I'm learning and cultivating my voice as a singer more in this record than I ever have before.
Wayuhi: I think what I learned about my artistry, and I'm sure a lot of artists can relate to this, is where there's a lot of inactivity – not even waiting, just accepting – like, yeah, not happening today. And then something comes and just floods the floodgates open. I think it's so cool, because every time I write music, I learn something about myself. And I think that's a really special thing.
Underscore: What are you most excited about for the “2 The Moon & Back Tour”?
Wayuhi: I’m grateful folks are coming out. And I'm excited to see who identifies with the music. And I'm excited to see people dance. I'm excited to play some of these new songs. It’s a lot of fun to let loose and give people something to escape to, give them a night of it. Because I'm a showman. I want to give people the fun and let them kick back, get a little bit loose. I'm excited to give that to people.
Underscore: Talk to me about your new song Veils, what was that like.
Tonatiuh: Veils, to me, is one of the center points of a lot of this story and a lot of the way that my writing has changed and the way that my storytelling has changed. Working with Mato on that song was so effortless. It was really special to get to do this song with him. To get to do that leading into our tour together is really, really special. And I've heard his album many times that is also coming out in the coming year. And it's beautiful to see us in very different ways, healing through art, and confronting a lot of grief and a lot of growth in our projects. I just have an immense amount of respect and creatively they're so different but it's beautiful to have peers that you can look to that are another Native young man who's confronting some of the same things that I am. There's a lot of love and brotherhood that is very tender that we brought into this tour that I think allows us to lean into some of the less toxic manifestations of how we show up as men. It’s a constant work in progress, obviously, but we are always learning from each other.
Underscore: Mato, can you tell me about what your experience was like working on Reservation Dogs as a cast member and as a composer?
Wayuhi: Hollywood, and a lot of these entertainment models are very individualistic, and Rez Dogs was the antithesis to that. It was different. It was about the community, it was an ensemble show, there's really no main character. I would say the town and the culture, the Muskogee culture, is the main character of the show, which is really cool. It kind of reframes the idea of storytelling. And so being on set was really cool. Because I think that's always been something that I've instilled within my own artistry and just kind of the way I operate, is this idea of family and community.
Underscore: Xiuhtezcatl, how does your activism relate to the work you are doing with music?
Tonatiuh: All of my organizing and all the climate work that I do, the most important things that I did was when we gathered Native youth to create safe spaces for us to be on the land and teach each other and be artful together and have open mics and share poetry. All the activism and the organizing, that'll come. It's about how do we create safe spaces? First and foremost, that's what I have to think about. I'm stoked for the future of Native spaces and how we show up and how subversive it'll continue to be, going against the grain. That's why I love Mato Wayuhi, because he refuses to be categorized by the labels that are placed on us.
Underscore: What advice would you both give to other young, Native artists?
Tonatiuh: When I look at other young Native kids, other young Native artists, we don't have to adhere to what Native people, what white people expect from us as artists. Our art can be dynamic and it can sound very different and it can take many different forms and many genres and many shapes and many mediums. It should be whatever you want it to be, there's not one right way to do it. You don't have to lead with, ‘Oh, I'm a Native artist.’ You are an artist and your Indigeneity can inform your art and for some people more than others. It doesn't have to be bound to a caricature of what people expect us to do. It can be liberatory. And I encourage you to explore: how can our art liberate us, rather than confine us? We can shine brighter if we celebrate each other's wins, and we create collectively and communally. We're all different, we all have different things to offer. So I want that for our youth of our generation.
Wayuhi: I think specifying what it is you want to accomplish, and what it is you want to do, just a little bit, can help you. Follow your heart, especially in the beginning stages. I think starting is always the hardest thing. And then I think the next thing is not swaying to public opinion, or even private opinion from folks that might be close to you. You got to follow your gut and you just got to keep making stuff. I think the worst, the biggest self betrayal is when we stop making things that we love. And you start making things that you feel cater to an expectation of your output. And I think that can be really denigrating. So yeah, I think just make what you love.
Tonatiuh: We don't have to limit ourselves, our ceiling is not what they make for us. It is what we choose to envision for ourselves creatively and artistically.
Lead image: Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh and Mato Wayuhi wear futuristic glasses and pose for their photo. Photo courtesy of Josué Rivas
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the day of the Seattle concert. It will take place on Thursday, Nov. 2. Underscore News regrets the error.