Nanuq: Spirit of the North

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By Russ Ham

You’ve probably seen him — a young man with a quick smile riding a bicycle, carrying a guitar bag of Mapuche weaving on his back.

Maybe you’ve heard him, busking the taquerias along Colosio, the Abasolo sushi stand, in the Centro at restaurants like McFisher’s, or up the Malecón at Los Cocos. He plays only his own songs, with catchy hooks and great turns of phrase. He sings with both power and delicacy, complemented by deft guitar work and occasional harmonica fills.

Mapuche031a12Meet Eduardo Araiza Mendoza, who performs as “Nanuq” (as in “of the North”). He’s from Morelia, Michoacan, and has been in La Paz three years. He came to record an album with Xero Records, but, “I fell in love with La Paz so I decided to stay.” He also fell in love here — he and his wife have a precious 16-month-old. So he has left the comfortable climate of Morelia and endures the “ordeal” of paceño summers, where “the heat seems to come from the Underworld, but a cold beer and the beautiful beaches can cushion the blow.”

Not yet 29, he has recorded about 160 songs on 16 albums. At age 16, he formed a punk band called Propriedad Privada (“Private Property”). They put out three albums with 20 songs. He followed that with an alt-rock band called Febrero 30 that put out three albums of 24 songs. While getting a degree in marketing at LaSalle University in Morelia, he started performing solo and calling himself “Nanuq.” There are now ten Nanuq albums with another 115 songs! He has 20 videos on YouTube, including two from La Paz producer Jesús Vida Bella. He’s toured South America — for four months in 2012, he played bars, hostels, squares, and metros in Argentina, Chile, and Peru. The experience, “was food for my spirit.”

Why “Nanuq?” He was inspired by the songs of whales, and he liked the Haida caretaker in the movie “Free Willy,” so he looked for an indigenous word for whale, but the Inuit word turned out to be “Okuj,” which “is not particularly attractive.” Then he learned that the Inuit word for Polar Bear signifies both the animal and its spirit — and he knew right away “Nanuq” would be his stage name.

He covers his circuit daily, playing for tips and selling CDs. His hard work has earned a devoted following. When he plays an evening show — as at Galeria del Arte Tonantzin on October 15 — the crowd sings along to many of his songs. “I love that,” he says. “It’s an indescribable sensation, knowing that the people identify with my music and my lyrics. It inspires me continue to offer my best efforts.”

But when you walk into a restaurant and unzip a guitar case, some people — especially those who have “had a few” — may feel free to critique your work aloud. What about the inevitable hecklers? “Sometimes it’s difficult to deal with rude behavior. I understand that not all the world will like an artist’s work, but that’s no excuse for being disrespectful. The worst part is that it alters my own state of mind, sapping my good vibes. So I try to rescue myself from falling into that trap. I have learned to forgive and release things that don’t nourish me.”

He likes to listen to a little bit of everything. For influences, he names Fernando Delgadillo (a Mexican folkie from the 1990s), División Minúscula (a Matamoros rock band that debuted in 2001), Nach (a Spanish rapper), Dustin Kensrue and his band Thrice (Orange County guys who do “post-hardcore, experimental rock”), Biffy Clyro (a Scottish rock band), Sigur Rós (a “post-rock” band from Iceland), and “No Use for a Name” (a ‘90s punk act from San Jose, CA).

Among La Paz musicians, “I like the music of Guillermo Pérez. He’s a good musician and a great friend. I also respect and admire Demian Arcadia, No Polution, Alberto Aguilar, Gera Meza, Los Malnacidos, and Eduardo Compagnioni.”


Wide012b125His songwriting can go quickly or slowly. “I usually take a week or two, but there are songs that I wrote in half-an-hour, and others that took 8 or 9 months.” He’ll begin with a guitar riff or chord progression, and then fill in with lyrical phrases. Contrary to most songwriters, he never writes anything down. The organic process of filling the music with words, then allowing other words to follow as they will, means that he doesn’t have to memorize a song — they come “pre-memorized.”


So watch for Nanuq. Listen to his songs. And drop some pesos into his bag.

Photos courtesy of Estudio Chispa.

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