Yaqui melody used by Chávez and Anderson

Carlos Chávez’s Sinfonía india* (1936) is built on several Mexican Indian melodies, and two of them are of Yaqui origin. The second main theme of the symphony, a Yaqui melody, comes in at rehearsal number 27 in the score (Allegretto cantabile), at 2:15 and again at number 73 (Andante con moto), at 8:28.

*video shows orchestral score

Jon Anderson’s album Toltec (1996) includes two songs sung by a children’s choir in the Yaqui language, a Uto-Aztecan language spoken in Sonora. The first of these is “Semati Siyonpme.” It uses the same tune as above. This time with lyrics. Note that the two versions of the tune are slightly different.

With what little information on the Yaqui language I could scrounge up online, “semati” means ‘nice’. I couldn’t find any clue about “siyonpme,” though. This song is also in the mix on the introductory track. The second Yaqui song is “Maazo, Maazo,” which means ‘the deer’.

Usually my Google-fu is as powerful as anyone’s, but I’m stumped finding any further background on “Semati Siyonpme,” how Carlos Chávez acquired it, where did the lyrics in Anderson’s version come from and what do they mean… Someone gave the lyrics a rough-and-ready phonetic transcription by ear, but I couldn’t match anything in it with what little information I could scrounge on the Yaqui language. I don’t imagine that the English lyrics that Jon sings in counterpoint to the kids have anything to do with the original lyrics, so that’s probably no help.

Just wanted to add tangentially that you can see the Uto-Aztecan cognate in the words for ‘deer’: Yaqui maaso, Nahuatl mazatl (as in Mazatlan).

Let me just try a bump here…

Anybody? Anything? Bueller?

It’s been over a year, may I do another bump? Well, here goes. Good luck.

seewa (flower, cognate to xochitl) + empo (you)

“You are a nice flower”



That looks like a pretty good educated guess! I knew about that page of Uto-Aztecan Swadesh lists, but hadn’t thought of checking there.

Have you listened to the two pieces of music? Despite the differences, isn’t it clearly the same melody?

I have no doubt that if I could travel to the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México’s library, I could find in print the answers that seem so elusive online.

The SDMB’s demonstrated genius at crowd-sourcing obscure bits of knowledge gave me hope to try asking.

:slight_smile: Very rudimentarily educated guess, but it was fun giving it a brief stab.

As for the melodies…I detect a similar arch-like pattern (high-low-high-low-lower-lower still-lowest note), but wouldn’t call them the “same.”

Thanks for introducing us to these musical works.

Only tangentially related: I just saw the new film “News of the World,” with Tom Hanks. IMHO a good but not great film — but it’s nice to hear some Kiowa, as spoken by an 11-year-old German actress (!). I was hoping for more Kiowa culture in the film, but the DVD does include a short feature on the Kiowa who serve as consultants, and there is a fragment of a Kiowa song sung.