It’s 9pm on Friday at Envision Festival, Costa Rica, and an 18-year-old boy of Mexican heritage is tearing up the tiny Village Stage in the name of the environment. I stop and gape.
Two nights later he’s playing the main stage and I’m on the front lines for more. Hair swinging to his waist, Xiuhtezcatl is flanked by his sister Isa Martinez’s sultry R’n’B vocals, and Richard Vagner’s violin expertise. They power through verses on racial injustice, climate change, his endangered indigenous heritage – packaged in fiery production and the sort of electro choral drops which almost bring me to my knees.
But this guy has got way more on offer than just the white-hot verses he’s dropping on stage.
Hailing from Boulder, Colorado, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez (pronounced “shoo-tez-cat”) has been campaigning against environmental injustice since he was 6 years old. Fast forward a couple of years and he spearheads the youth activist movement Earth Guardians.
By the age of 14 he had addressed world leaders at the United Nations in English, Spanish and his ancestral Aztec tongue Nahautl. Last year he was among the 21 youth activists who sued the Trump administration for climate inaction.
These days he’s using his hip-hop skills as a platform to spread his message in a louder – and perhaps more conventionally packaged – way.
“Yes this is critical, this is my resistance/ artists hold more power than these crooked politicians,” he spits into the mic. This is “Boombox Warefare” a collab with Jaden Smith and the actual track which got my attention from one line on a jungle stage.
There’s a whole lot more where that came from. His latest album Break Free candidly addresses the plight of a generation faced with systemic injustice, police brutality, lack of indigenous rights and environmental degradation – boldly asserted by teenager who has grown up on the forefront of those issues.
With the amount of harrowing environmental and social collapse going around right now, we could all use a bit of well produced truth on our playlists.
As he lauds: “Hip hop culture is our greatest tool for liberation.”