African Beat, Amerind Soul, Indomitable Spirit

Various Artists – Garifuna Music – Field Recordings From Belize
Various Artists

Garifuna Music – Field Recordings From Belize (ARC Music EUCD 1913, 2005)

The music on this disc, raw and fiercely non-commercial though it may be, is spellbinding. The Garifuna are a minority population in Belize and other key areas of Central America, but their resiliency, resourcefulness and celebrated history have spurred much interest in recent years.

Today’s Garifuna are descended from Africans who survived the sinking of two slave ships off St. Vincent Island a few centuries ago as well as escaped slaves and, as emerging archeological and historical evidence has suggested, even pre-Colombian Africans who had long lived in the Caribbean. These Africans mixed
with regional Carib and Arawak tribes, bringing about the African/indigenous cultural makeup of the Garifuna.

Their growth and prosperity was contrary to colonial interests in the area, and despite forced relocations by the British that were more like genocide, Garifuna communities eventually managed to flourish along the coasts of Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.

Garifuna music often commemorates key events in their history as well as bringing about spiritual healing and referencing specific religious syncreticism. It can also be an expression of everyday things
such as work, leisure and humor.

Either way, the combination of African, Amerindian and (to some extent) Spanish elements is thrilling to listen to. Drums, shakers, voices and inventive use of turtle and conch shells are the backbone of most of the pieces on this album, with a few acapella female vocal selections adding contrast along with songs featuring acoustic guitar.

The entire album feels wonderfully unpretentious, like a bunch of folks coming together to make music for the celebratory fun of it. Percussion and voices spur each other along in rough but intricate songs that sound straight out of an African village, utilizing characteristic rhythms (punta, parranda,
hungu-hungu) both fast and moderate.

The tracks with unaccompanied voices or a bit of guitar balladry are engaging interludes that cool down the pace and make you feel like you were there.

For those who like deep-roots music with plenty of heart and guts, this album is a gem. (And if you should happen to be interested in more great listening along the same lines, also check out the 1999 release Paranda: Africa in Central America on the Detour/Stonetree Records label, 2000’s Music from Honduras, Vol. 2 on Caprice, as well as Honduras: Songs of Garifuna on Discovery, The Dynasty by Garifuna Legacy, Punta Rhythm Garifuna Celebration, King of Punta by Chico Ramos, and Forever by Garifuna Stars Band.

Author: Tom Orr

Tom Orr is a California-based writer whose talent and mental stability are of an equally questionable nature. His hobbies include ignoring trends, striking dramatic poses in front of his ever-tolerant wife and watching helplessly as his kids surpass him in all desirable traits.