IBG Interview – 7 Questions With…. The Trouble Notes

Trouble Notes

As world travelers turned musicians, The Trouble Notes are a band that utilizes their musical prowess to share the stories of various cultures they have been immersed in. Their newest single, “Mayahuel” is an upbeat instrumental arrangement that romanticizes the story of their friend Martha Xucunostli. Amidst the jazzy violin melodic lines, Latin-based guitar rhythms, and driving percussion, The Trouble Notes tell the story of a powerful female character who traveled across an ocean from her native Mexico to Belgium for love and had to navigate the balance between her native traditions and those of her new European home. “Lately it feels that to many people, immigration has a negative connotation.

The story told by “Mayahuel” is an attempt to break that mold,” says Bennet Cerven, Violinist for The Trouble Notes. “The character behind the song is the archetypal immigrant’s story, finding a way to integrate herself into her new home without losing her own traditions.” Martha recently contributed her thoughts and personal experiences to an interview that shares more of the band’s inspiration behind the song.

Enjoy the interview below for Martha’s perspective:

How did you find the courage to uproot your life and leave Oaxaca?

“I come from a Mexican family with very strong identity roots – raised with love and pride for our ancestors, traditions, and community.  I was raised with colorful joy, imagination, a love for adventure, and courage as an example at home.

Leaving Oaxaca was difficult for my family. My relationship with my grandmothers and mamma has always been difficult. However, I understand more about it growing up. I was raised by amazing women who instilled in me the inspiration for exploring worlds and tastes and being used to moving around beyond my southern river borders.

I have been uprooting my life with this family fire as the center of my heartbeat: Thanks to the richness of my roots, I have been able to travel since I was very young, being curious about new landscapes, people, food, and cultures.”

Could you explain what was going on in your life before you left? 

“Before I moved to Belgium, I was living at the Mexican Caribbean beach (my second adoptive home away from Oaxaca) and I was working in the tourism sector. But also, I was very active in the socio-cultural sector with passionate causes such as the conservation of native Mexican maize and river conservation, as well as creating and collaborating with diverse artists and multicultural scenes. Together with my mother, we have an NGO that is still active bringing focus on  indigenous languages and biodiversity conservation.”

What sparked this decision? 

“In 2016 – 2017, the not-so-forecasted decision to leave Mexico was very complex and provoked inner turbulence. It felt like a midlife crisis while I was reaching my 40s questioning  myself:

Will I regret it? Will I come back sooner than expected? Am I totally sure about the huge 360 degrees change that I am taking? What am I going to do totally out of context?

I felt confused like I was “acting as a teenager” when I should have been “taking more serious decisions”. After all, I had finally reached my dreams in Mexico, when suddenly I was about to “leave them”… emotional jeopardy, indeed.

Love was the sparkling motivation and even if I had “afterthoughts” about the huge risk, the inside awareness of “follow your inner fire” helped me to “said yes to my heart”, dare to resign from my job, leave the beach and get me onto the flight to Belgium and meet again with all my butterflies, the love of my youth, Jurgen Lemaire.”

Was it a process? (Did it gradually build up over time?)

“The process was huge! My tropical world was flipped into the Flemish world from 30 Celcius to -0!

Today I can realize what a space-out process is!

I had no clue about all the challenges because I never asked myself too many questions and probably because of my adventurous roots. The most difficult part of the process was the 3 years without being able to go back to Oaxaca while I was all the time learning the language, and local culture, and even the challenge of having a driver’s license – building up a life in all senses and being all the time in the ‘challenge zone’.

After five years, some tears, grey winter skies, and some delicious Belgian beers, I felt myself in another skin… I am grateful for the process and the result of my journey, drawing me new doors with hope and feeling the faithful support of my family.”

 How did you find your place in your new home? 

“Beyond the cultural difference, when I arrived in Belgium in 2017, I had to start by finding a connection to my new home and life as a couple – first with him, and also very important: returning with myself, feeling me, and embracing me.

Suddenly, I went from arriving with enthusiasm about my new life to stress and uncertainty on how I would build myself again. I was totally dependent on my husband and that was very hard for me since I am used to being independent. I was scared, very scared. I felt a huge pressure. I had no clue. And yes, kind of lost. 

I had the feeling of being suddenly isolated in the middle of nowhere, in winter far away from my busy beach life, and I was totally lost in translation with the language within my cold cristal bubble of unknown. I had no friends nor a house of my own, but I was totally open to a new adventure in the Flemish region of Kortrijk learning. Thanks to the guidance of my husband, Jurgen Lemaire, who unconditionally supported me. 

I had love, support, courage, enthusiasm, curiosity, new dreams, health, and a soul.

Yes, I was emotionally bombarded but at the same time,  empowered by love and the beautiful local life and landscapes – forests, beach dunes, beautiful cities, and local culture. 

I’ve decided to explore the beauty of my surreal life-changing feeling not so far from my Oaxaca nest and Papaloapan River. Thanks to “The Leie river” which connected me to my butterflies and roots,  reminding me to flow and have faith.

My favorite new ritual suddenly was biking around and along the rivers. Discovering my exciting new life let me be immersed in delicious foods and traditions.

My first two years immigrating here were busy and full of things to learn from zero. Indeed, my most difficult years – I was not speaking Nederlands, I had no driver’s license, I had no network nor friends or relatives, and I was unemployed.

The gray winter was the “top of the drama” to deal with my issues. My shiny Mexican skies were not part of my days anymore.

Step by step, I started to own my life: I went to school to study Dutch, and I got involved with cultural activities with fun and interesting new opportunities. 

I started to walk into zones out of the comfort that dared me and squeezed my existence like a seed becoming a flower, like a girl that became a woman. 

By the summer of 2018, I was starting up with Love Mexico, Ambassadeurs of Mexican culture in Belgium. During lockdowns, my creativity came back to life. Then, after Covid, I finally got my driver’s license.”

 How do you reconcile differences between the culture of your past and the culture of your present?

“Past and present coexist in my life as a result of culturally mixed family roots – The Xucunostli family is a very ancient Aztec family. I came from a very old tribe and I was born from a rich mix of cultures: Aztec roots with some Spanish spark. Throughout my life, I have been on a deep journey of reconciliation. I had a lot of wars in the past for me to recognize pride and compassion.” 

How do you choose which aspects of the different cultures make up your identity?

“It has been a very interesting and complex life journey discovering and recognizing my mixed identity. Thanks to this research on identity, the best things in my life have happened. 
Accepting who I am by understanding and exploring my cultural syncretism makes me able to see and embrace the beauty of my diversity, strongly supporting my present life and owning who I am.”

 Stay tuned for more music from The Trouble Notes (HERE) including a new single coming in November.

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