DJ Eric Terena: The Collective Sounds for a New Era

March 15, 2023 Nia Tero Season 3 Episode 1
DJ Eric Terena: The Collective Sounds for a New Era
Show Notes Transcript

On the heels of a political sea change in Brazil toward environmental justice and Indigenous rights, activist and DJ Eric Terena (of the Terena Peoples) shares how music is being used for the collective good. He tells the story of how he learned to integrate his identities as an activist, journalist and musician. His collaborations with political leaders like Sonia Guajajara and Célia Xakriabá raise awareness about Indigenous rights worldwide. Producer Marianna Romano brings us this episode from São Paulo and a Portuguese version will be shared later this spring. Host: Jessica Ramirez. Producer: Marianna Romano. Story Editor: Jenny Asarnow. Executive Producer: Tracy Rector. Voice-over: Felipe Contreras. 

[Este episódio também pode ser apreciado em inglês. Ouça aqui.]

Just as art and music are integral to the movement for Indigenous rights, music is central to this episode. Featured songs by Eric Terena are: 

Learn more: 

  • Follow Mídia India on Instagram 
  • Hear more of Eric’s music here 
  • Learn more about the work of the producer of this episode, Marianna Romano 

Seedcast is a production of Nia Tero, a global nonprofit which supports Indigenous land guardianship around the world through policy, partnership, and storytelling initiatives.

Enjoy the Seedcast podcast on the Nia Tero website, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and your other favorite podcast platforms.

Keep up with Seedcast on Instagram and use the hashtag #Seedcast.

Eric Terena

Seedcast Season 3 Episode 1

March 15, 2023

[00:00:00] Jessica Ramirez: Welcome to Seedcast. I'm your host, Jessica Ramirez, joining you from Coast Salish territory; and this is our first episode of Season 3. 

We're bringing you this episode from Brazil, because what happens in Brazil matters to the whole world. Brazil is home to the Amazon rainforest, and nearly one million Indigenous peoples. Brazilians are embarking on a new political era. They're leaving behind a government that brought nothing but violence towards people and the environment. But now, with the election of Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, otherwise known as Lula, there is new hope for the future of Indigenous peoples, and for the resources that protect our planet.

[sound of Sonia Guajajara and Célia Xakriabá singing, clapping]

At last year's UN Climate Summit, Sonia Guajajara and Célia Xakriabá celebrated Lula's election as President of Brazil. Only two months later, Sonia became the first ever Minister Of Indigenous Affairs of Brazil, and Celia became the only current Indigenous woman in the Brazilian Congress. They are all part of an Indigenous movement that Eric Terena has supported with his art.

 [sound of singing continues, then cheering and applause]

[theme music begins, softly plays in the background]

 [Eric Terena begins speaking in Portuguese]

 [00:01:40] Eric Terena: [with voiceover in English by Felipe Contreras for each of Eric’s responses]So this period is the period that we've been calling “The prosperity time”, in which things are heading towards being improved, being heard. 

 [Eric continues speaking in Portuguese]

 All of this is so moving that it makes my heart explode. 

 [00:02:01] Jessica: Eric Terena is a young Indigenous activist. He's of the Terena people. And we're really excited to feature them in our first episode this season. We hear today from Eric about how music has led him to be vocal about Indigenous rights worldwide.

 Theme song by Mia Kami: We are standing, hear our calling, we are rooted to the ground we’re here to stay. No staying quiet, we stand united, we are rooted to the ground, can't tear us down, we’re here to stay…

 [00:02:43] Jessica: Let's go to São Paulo now, where Producer Marianna Romano introduces us to Eric Terena and the people he's a part of.

 [melodic electronic music plays]

 [00:03:03] Marianna Romano: After a time of darkness, walking again towards prosperity feels very new—scary, even. We can start to heal the trauma, or at least try; and then open the path for new ideas and plans. Living in terror evokes a sense of emergency in every action, and everything else feels superficial, frivolous. But in fact art, rest, beauty, and curiosity are a key part of what it means to be human. To live, is different than to only survive. So in celebration of the political transition Brazil is currently under, we wanted to introduce you to a person who has their feet grounded in both places: the political urgency and the arts. On the political front, coordinating, engaging, and reporting. And on the arts, elevating other Indigenous artists with his original creations in various media forms.

 [Eric speaks in Portuguese]

 [00:04:09] Eric/Felipe: I'm Eric Terena. I'm from the Terena people of the Mato Grosso do Sul. I'm 29 years old. I'm an activist. 

 [00:04:19] Marianna: Eric calls himself an activist, but if we fold that word open in his life, it also means that he's a photographer, a journalist, a DJ, a musician, an educator for the collective good. 

[Eric continues in Portuguese] 

[00:04:35] Eric/Felipe: That's how it goes in the western non-Indigenous society. You can only be one thing in your life. And then with an Indigenous society, you can be whatever you want as long as it's for the collective good.  

[00:04:53] Marianna: He said that growing up there were so many people to share the space with, and the food, and the resources, that it wasn't possible to even think of a more individual existence. The collective sharing was always there. 

[Eric’s mother speaks, sounds of birds and insects chirping in the background]

Music has always been part of his life. This is Eric's mother singing 

[Eric’s mother softly sings a song, with the sounds of birds in the background] 

[00:05:56] Marianna: For many Indigenous peoples, it's understood that art is integrated into the fabric of life, and that creativity is a nod to spirituality and the ancestors. It's a form of communicating your own power to the great wind that blows through everyone. And that's certainly true for Eric and the Terena people—the leaders catch that wind through their dreams and music. 

[Eric speaks in Portuguese] 

[00:06:23] Eric/Felipe: Our song is dreamt, it is not a collective singing. So the Koixomonéti, dream of the song. 

[00:06:35] Marianna: The Koixomonéti are the spiritual guides of the Terena community. 

[Eric continues in Portuguese] 

[00:06:44] Eric/Felipe: The Koixomonéti are the people who make the connection with ancestry. So they're above the social organization of the Terena people. Below them are the Indigenous leaders. Also the Sukrikionó and the Xumonó. 

[Continues speaking in Portuguese]

[00:07:01] Marianna: Within the Terena spiritual system, the Sukrikionó and Xumonó are complementary forces. Xumonó represents youthful behavior—playful and fearless; agitated. Sukrikionó, on the other hand, is maturity, calmness, and seriousness. 

[00:07:26] Eric/Felipe: The Sukrikionó and the Xumonó are the base, the two balanced halves of the two clans that belong to the Terena people. 

[Eric continues in Portuguese]  

So, Sukrikionó and the Xumonó are these forces that also serve for the Indigenous Terena people to organize themselves politically, socially, and in a form of identity.  

[00:07:56] Marianna: Once the Koixomonéti of the region dream of a song, it can also represent a foreshadow of what's to come.  

[Continues in Portuguese] 

[00:08:08] Eric/Felipe: They imagine it as if it were an omen, as if it were a message, a sign. And then from the chant they start singing and narrating everything that will happen from now on, or everything that can happen, through the singing 

[00:08:28] Marianna: The Terenas are one of the biggest Indigenous groups outside the Brazilian Amazon. They mostly live in southern Brazil around Mato Grosso do Sul, where the landscape consists mostly of floodplain in a biome called Pantanal, with naturally flooded areas that look like several lakes from above, really close to each other. Their native language is Aruak, spoken until today, and although the Terenas were historically patriarchal, now women have become the political organizers of the Terena people.

[Eric continues in Portuguese]

[00:09:06] Eric/Felipe: So politically, women have been facing the struggle for public policies. However, it is a female's decision within the Indigenous organization. The performance of women is very important and has lost this patriarchal aspect, but it's still the women who make the decision whether it's at home, or in political bodies. So many things have been changing: our religious practices, in our musical ideals, and so on. Some things have been changing with time.  

[00:09:46] Marianna: Growing up, while Eric's mom and other relatives were busy doing community organizing, Eric used to hang out with his dad where he worked, at a local radio station. That's where he first started using the tools of a musician. 

[Eric continues in Portuguese]   

[00:10:06] Eric/Felipe: And it was with him that I often pressed the play button and was able to put songs on the radio. And there in the studio, the LPs would come in, and it felt very privileged at the time to own a vinyl record.

 My dad used to say, “Hey, I'm gonna play that song, press record for us.” And then I started recording at home, and I became this young man who would arrive in the city saying I had the best tapes, getting the village to listen.

 [00:10:42] Marianna: Eric studied journalism at University and graduated in 2015, just as a conservative political wave was rising in Brazil. At the time, the Terena experienced constant threats with the fast advances of mining and farms in the region. The Terenas and other Indigenous peoples in Mato Grosso do Sul fought back, but the police were often brutal.

 This type of aggression was happening in other communities, too. Indigenous leaders under attack were tired of the regular press being the only ones to have a say in the news. They saw the need to have Indigenous youth come to the front politically to be vocal about the issues that were happening, and it feels like people noticed that Eric had something special about him—he is a great communicator. 

[Eric continues speaking in Portuguese] 

[00:11:32] Eric/Felipe: That was the most important part when leaders said, “We need and have communicators who need to do something.”

 [00:11:41] Marianna: This need for news made by and for Indigenous people was what gave birth to Midia India—or, Indigenous media in English—a news hub founded by Eric and his peers. 

[Continues speaking in Portuguese] 

[00:11:58] Eric/Felipe: We started with nine Indigenous communicators, coordinating each one in their own region. The idea of Midia India was to do workshops to empower Indigenous youth, to integrate the movement as a whole. 

[00:12:11] Marianna:  It was a webspace where they could write, edit, and publish their own stories with an angle that was not dictated by the regular media outlets. Retaking land is central to the Indigenous resistance, but reclaiming media creation is also a way of resisting through being present in ideas and the discourse. 

[Continues speaking in Portuguese] 

[00:12:39] Eric/Felipe: We lost a lot of leaders, and every time we were on the press coverage, people took our cameras, our phones, our equipment, because this equipment is a tool of denunciation too. That also places the State as criminals against the Indigenous populations that were there trying to cover the event as communication professionals, or just showing support. 

[00:13:09] Marianna: So Midia India became a convergent point for Indigenous journalists, photographers, and collaborators to reclaim their stories and investigate them by themselves. They now had the tools to team up and publish refutation to the fake news that was being spread.  

[Eric speaks in Portuguese]

 [00:13:30] Eric/Felipe:That is in addition to having the technical operation of equipment, cell phones, and computers. We can now understand the legal language of projects that were totally unknown to us before, so it was a revolution.

 [00:13:50] Marianna: This revolution also opened a way for a different revolution in Eric's life. Leaders in the movement counted on Eric for support. Sonia Guajajara invited him to teach radio to Guajajara youth. As a multi-talented producer, Eric helped assemble video documentaries for Midia India, which included tasks such as editing and mixing. So sometimes, he would produce original soundtracks, just for the videos. 

[Eric continues in Portuguese]

[00:14:21] Eric/Felipe: I was able to do a soundtrack of our own documentaries; make remixes of our own videos. So that's the communication thing. It's the artistic part. [It] was always connected.

[00:14:41] Marianna: Being an artist can be joyful, communal, and prolific, but the process of creating something with the goal of pure expression can also be lonely, confusing, and full of creative blocks. It was Henry Miller who once said, “An artist is always alone if he's an artist. No, what the artist needs is loneliness.”  

But in this society we live in, which is so centered around individual values, how often do we crave collaboration and a sense of community? Eric was now realizing that there might be a way for him to be of service to his community and ideals while being connected to his higher self, his art. A chance encounter made this even more clear. 

Eric had been touring the world as a photographer, amplifying Indigenous movements. It was in Paris that he met Djuena Tikuna, another Indigenous artist who was doing a tour of her own as a singer. She handed him a CD of her music and said that she knew of his work and that she'd love to collaborate with him and Midia India. And so the remix of a song called Tetchi'arü'nguwas made.

[Tetchi'arü'ngu begins to play, an ethereal melody with Djuena singing over sounds of water and birds]

 [Eric speaks in Portuguese]

[00:16:20] Eric/Felipe: There are songs that are culturally sung, such as Djuena Tikuna’s, Tetchi'arü'ngu, in which she sings the origin of her people in her song. This is contemporary Indigenous music.

[Tetchi'arü'ngu continues playing]

[Eric continues speaking in Portuguese]

 We say it's contemporary music because it's recorded on the microphone and mixed, and it goes through the whole phonographic process, done and mastered. It has some electronic instruments, but it also has traditional instruments.

 [Tetchi'arü'ngucontinues playing, shifting into a techno/edm tempo and style]

 [00:17:21] Marianna: Tetchi'arü'nguis a song that Djuena's grandmother used to sing, and possibly composed. It speaks of the first woman, a Charango woman, who embodies the origins of the Tikuna people. The Tikunas, by the way, are one of the most numerous Indigenous communities in the whole Brazilian Amazon.

 [00:17:44] Eric/Felipe: Then I started to capture the sounds, the sounds of the forest, started to capture the sounds of the kapok, the sound of the monkeys, the sound of the birds. And so when you listen to music, you listen to music more cleanly because it mixes more organic, actually, let's say natural sounds from the real forest. 

[Continues speaking in Portuguese] 

But this specific song was the milestone for me where I said I need to dedicate myself because if I manage to do this song, I can do many others. 

 [00:18:38] Marianna: The thing is Eric was clearly doing a great job—a journalist with many projects—but after Tetchi'arü'ngu, he began seriously considering being a musical producer. So he released a song, and more people started streaming it than he had imagined. The song was also shared within the Indigenous communities. It gained momentum. 

 [Eric continues speaking in Portuguese]

 [00:19:02] Eric/Felipe: When we launched Tetchi'arü'ngu, the Indigenous people started posting things like, “For the first time, I'm proud to publish a song that the English speaking people don't know the meaning of.” You know, when we sing music without knowing the meaning of it, just because the melody is really good? These guys started to share saying like, “Wow, what is this?”  

[00:19:36] Marianna: From that moment on, it was clear that Eric was receiving a calling to produce his own music. He was determined to teach himself how to use music software such as Logic and ProTools, but he instantly saw how those tools were expensive and kind of gated, difficult to access. Even on YouTube where information is free, all the tutorials were in English, a language he was not fluent in. He powered through, though, copying on his own equipment what the video showed, and then he would check to see how it sounds. Little by little he got to shape his own sounds. He began playing parties again, but this time with his own music in the mix. 

But there seemed to be a personality divide somewhere. He used one name for his journalistic endeavors, Eric Terena, and another for his music ones, DJ Eric Marky—that's how you may find him on the streaming services, by the way! His friends, or “the guys” as he said, persuaded him to use maybe one name.  

[Eric speaks in Portuguese]

[00:20:43] Eric/Felipe: But then the guys said, “You have to decide. You have to assume these two identities in one.”—the Eric Terena DJ and Eric Terena communicator and activist—because I thought they were two different things. But then I started doing more audiovisual shows, and I said, “Dude, it's all here!” 

 [00:21:08] Marianna: It was now possible to envision a career where he could merge all of his creative fronts, instead of neatly separating them into different categories in his life. So he started presenting his music as DJ Eric Terena, the same name he uses for his journalistic bylines. One name for one person. He was at last in full unity with his work. 

 Part of this unity was to perform wearing his cocar, the ornamented tiara made with the feathers of birds. He was wearing one in our video interview, and I have to say he looks fantastic in it. The cocar is a piece of art and ancestry, but some people apparently didn't welcome this change.

 [Eric continues in Portuguese]

 [00:21:58] Eric/Felipe: When I changed to Eric Terena and started playing with the headdress, many contracts were terminated and I had a lot of people saying, “Hey, you may play with your cocar and all, but at my party you won't.” I've heard that too. We terminated contracts for many other things—shows, events. That's part of the structural silencing process I've been talking about; the colonization.

 [00:22:27] Marianna: Despite the small mindedness of the people who terminated the contracts with him at the time, there were others in the world who were craving for more diverse voices. He played shows at the UN in Glastonbury, in front of thousands. His performances became a sophisticated combination of visual art, music, and political awareness. In all his projects, he collaborates with a team of Indigenous creatives and speakers, people like Célia Xakriabá, who you can hear featured in an Eric song.

 [An upbeat dance track with a voice speaking/rapping over electronic melodies and techno beat plays]

 [Eric continues in Portuguese]

00:23:20] Eric/Felipe: Music for the party is different from music that raises awareness in people. That's what I'm seeking with this. To use music as an awareness tool for these people. Where the song Inversions, for example, the screen shows tsunamis’ impact, deforestation, river contamination, because there is this awareness. 

[Inversões begins playing, a voice singing alongside an upbeat tempo, bass melodies, and bird calls in the background]

[00:24:16] Marianna: Inversions [Inversões] is the song you're hearing right now—a collaboration between Gean Ramos Pankararu and Eric Terena. 

[Eric continues speaking in Portuguese] 

[00:24:24] Eric/Felipe: And it's a drum/bass samba, all with traditional rhythms. So that's a taquara, which is a big bamboo that hit the ground and captured the sound of it. The maracatu, which is the bird, is also mixed there. A song that together, they begin to have a much more integrated and different harmony, because this is a kind of electronic rhythm that few people explore. I also wanted to escape the pop market. 

[Inversões continues to play, with more electronic melodies and beats layered beneath the vocals and nature sounds]

 [00:25:05] Marianna: Let's listen to the translation of some of the lyrics.  

Rethinking the past is necessary

To be able to live a better future

So many wrong things have been done

Destroyed without thinking about tomorrow


Believing and having hope will not change

The serious picture, impossible to reverse

Understand that swelling is not growing

And stop this false evolution


Why so much technology

If we don't even learn to preserve the rivers

Replacing the Indigenous with cattle

Riverside with nuclear power plant

 [Inversões continues, with spoken word/rap lyrics playing over the sounds of the beat, bass, melody, and birds and eventually vocals return to singing and fades out] 

[00:26:51] Marianna: The political air in Brazil feels more breathable for many of us, now. Brazil is governed by Lula again, who has a history of making policies for Indigenous communities and demarcating lands. This new government brought with it a new ministry of Indigenous peoples, led by no other than Sonia Guajajara. To have this Ministry is to refuse to allow a narrative where Indigenous lives don't matter. 

Her executive secretary is Eloy Terena, another friend of Eric, who is a prestigious lawyer from the Terena people. This is all really exciting! Indigenous peoples will mobilize for big events such as Acampamento Terra Livre in April, and Indigenous Women's March in September, and the energy is sure to be electric.

 [Eric speaks in Portuguese]

 [00:27:53] Eric/Felipe: So here, I leave my invitation for those who want to know about the Indigenous movement: come to the next Free Land Camp, also to the Indigenous Women's March, which is a women's movement in search of ancestry to strengthen the culture, strengthen decisions led by Indigenous women.  

[00:28:15] Marianna: But it doesn't mean it's time to relax.

 [Eric continues in Portuguese]

 [00:28:23] Eric/Felipe: Well, one thing I would like to add is that today, Indigenous people—despite taking the first steps within institutional policy of federal government—as a whole, we are still fighting for public spaces. We are still fighting for public policies, so this is just the beginning. Even though we've won, this is just an opening. It's an opening so we can fight.

 [00:28:52] Marianna: I finally ask Eric the common thread that connects all of his work and what motivates him to keep going forward.

 [Eric continues in Portuguese]

 [00:29:02] Eric/Felipe: To believe that someday things will change, that my music and communication, our organization will touch people's hearts towards ending the silence. 

And what is that silence? It's silence that comes from the time of invasion, of the colonization around 1500 in Brazil. At the time [they] talked about the meeting of a new continent, a new space, an uninhabited land. It said there [the land] had no human beings here. Actually, there always were. There were Indigenous people, and this is something that we have sought to change. 

So music is an education tool. Communication is an education tool, and everything we bring to social networks or internet, It's also a social reeducation tool,

 [00:30:08] Marianna: And it is with these tools in hand that Eric will enter this new era for his lands and people, ready to surprise others, and even himself, along the way.

 [Theme music “Rooted” by Mia Kami plays]

 [00:30:29] Jessica: Special thank you to Eric Terena. You can find him on Instagram and follow his work at Midia India. Check out the show notes for more information.  

This episode was produced and mixed by Marianna Romano, and story-edited by Jenny Asarnow. Thanks to our colleagues at Nia Tero for their support on this episode: David Rothschild, Daniela Lerda, Maria Fernanda Ribeiro, and Margarita Mora. The voiceover was done by Felipe Contreras, who also recorded Eric's interview at the COP27 Climate Summit in Sharm el Sheikh Egypt in November 2022.  

We also want to give a very dear and sweet goodbye to our fellow colleague, Felipe Contreras. This is Felipe's last episode with Seedcast, and we were so lucky to have him over the last couple of years. Thanks for trying something new on with me, Felipe. When we first started this work, we had no idea what we were doing and the world was a very different place. Wishing you the best of luck in your future endeavors!

This season we have an episode coming out to you every other week this year, so subscribe to your favorite podcast platform to hear more episodes. 

Nia Tero is a Seattle-based foundation. We're both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples with a mission to secure Indigenous guardianship for all vital ecosystems. That means we provide support to Indigenous peoples globally who are protecting their homelands from colonization and destruction. Their practices are one of our best guides for making earth livable for generations to come. 

Here at Seedcast, our guests represent themselves. They don't necessarily reflect the views of Nia Tero. We honor their honest perspectives and lived experiences. You can learn more about Seedcast, and about our work at Nia Tero, on our website: 

Our executive producer is Tracy Rector. Our senior producer is Jenny Asarnow. Consulting producer Julie Keck. Consulting producer Stina Hamlin. Fact checker, Romin Lee Johnson. Social Media by Nancy Kelsey. Transcripts by Sharon Arnold. The Seedcast theme song is Rooted by Mia Kami. I'm your host, Jessica Ramirez, and we look forward to sharing more original stories with you in Season 3.

 See you soon! 

 Outro from Eric in English: Hi, I'm Eric Terena from Brazil, and this has been Seedcast!