Music News

Snake Charmers

Spiritual journeys, ancient tribal ritual and Mayan cosmology are all in a day's work for Kan'Nal. The band was born of a vision that its lead singer, Tzol, had during one of his regular winter jaunts to Guatemala several years back. Following his Central American epiphany, Tzol enlisted six other myth-loving artists and set about wedding soft metal and Latin grooves with spoken word, projection visuals and pagan-inspired dancing. We asked Tzol about the origins of his unusual name and found out what, exactly, happened in Guatemala.

Westword: Is Tzol your real name?

Tzol: That's a name I got down in Guatemala. All things can change in life, including your name, I guess. Tzol means "sun" in Mayan. It ties into Kan'Nal, which is a play on a Spanish word that means "channel," though the way we spell it uses two Mayan words: kan means "serpent" and nal means "corn." We wanted to give the band an image as well as a name. The snake is a symbol of rebirth, and corn is the seed of life.

How long has the group been around?

Our current incarnation has been around for four years, but the overall vision has been around for seven. The idea was to create both a theater and a band in one and perform shows with elements of both.

Do you draw only on Mayan culture, or is it a blend of influences?

We draw heavily on Mayan culture, but our idea exists in cultures all around the world. We tap into the magic of the earth by doing ancient ritual in a modern/musical fashion. We're a rock band, though. Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix were shamans, in my opinion. Rock music used to be really in your face and shake you up. So we're getting dirty again, going back into the ground and digging up stuff.

What went down in Guatemala that made you want to form this band?

Every time I went south of the border, to Mexico and Guatemala, I would open up and channel great music. The heavens parted and the earth shook [laughs]. The vision of Kan'Nal came in Guatemala, on Lake Atitl´n. Atitl´n is high in the mountains, and it's an incredible power spot. I met our guitarist, Tierro, down there, and we took the vision and ran. We started by playing for tourists in the hotel areas. We'd decorate our set with jungle vines and create effigies and props and burn sage and other plants. We'd create another world to appeal to all the senses, and then we'd drop the music.

Do the theatrics/ pageantry ever overshadow the music?

I think it's been a learning process, and we're finding a balance between the two. A lot of times the music overshadows everything else. Right now I'm inspired to build up the theatrical side. For our next shows, we're bringing up a fire-dancing troupe from Austin.

What's on the horizon?

We're going down to Tikal in Guatemala this year to play in the ancient Mayan ruins there. It's a real honor, as no other band has played in those ruins. We have to do it all acoustic so as not to do any damage to the ruins. We're hoping to do it again on the Solstice in 2012. I believe there is a transformation going on, and we'd love to be there to usher it in.