Garifuna Roots Replanted

Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective – Watina
Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective

Watina (Cumbancha CMB-CD-3, 2007)

The Garifuna of Central America, descendants of African slaves who survived a 17th century shipwreck near the Caribbean island of St. Vincent and mixed with the indigenous Arawaks and other tribes in the region, get another boost to their music and culture with this disc.

Thanks largely to producer/musician Iván Duran’s Stonetree label (not to overlook fine collections released on the U.K.’s ARC Music label and Sweden’s Caprice Records), the Garifuna sound- one that is distinctly African, Native Central American and Spanish to varying degrees -is getting its due on the global scene. And with roughly only a quarter million Garifuna in the world today carrying on cultural traditions that centuries of adversity have endangered, the gritty vitality of the music is nothing short of medicinal.Duran and Belize’s Andy Palacio are two of the key creative forces behind Watina, a superb melding of deep roots Garifuna music with a measured jolt of modern production.

Palacio has made a name for himself in the genre of punta rock, where Garifuna melodies often take a back seat to the sort of synthesized beats that many listeners (world music savvy or not) can’t approach a dance floor without.

Seeing a need to preserve the Garifuna sound in purer form, Palacio took a few steps back to basics for this recording. From the first seconds of the opening title song, it’s obvious the move was a good one. The jangly acoustic guitars of the Latin-influenced paranda style chop away, fired up by some electric leads, clicking claves, hand drums crafted with snares across the head for a slightly buzzing groove and Palacio’s gruff but lilting voice. That tune and each that follows is a mini-masterpiece as a mixture of unplugged and plugged sounds bestow mutual blessings, particularly so on the gently urgent "Gaganbadiba" and the just plain stunning "Aguyuha Niduhenu." < Blues and gospel connections are made ("Baba"), the pace is cooled down for a bit of introspection ("Sin Precio") and the sound is occasionally widened in scope (check the funky insistency and darbuka drum propelling "Beiba"). While Duran's production and instrumental contributions give the right amount of contemporary glow, other esteemed singers and players of the collective, including septuagenarian icon Paul Nabor and young master Aurelio Martinez, seal the deal. Consider this the first must-have album of 2007. It's set for release on February 27th, so mark the date. Buy Watina.

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.