Andy Palacio was not only the most popular musician in Belize, he was also a serious music and cultural archivist with a deep commitment to preserving his unique Garifuna culture. Long a leading proponent of Garifuna popular music and a tireless advocate for the maintenance of the Garifuna language and traditions, Palacio was one of the founders of the Garifuna Collective.
Born and raised in the coastal village of Barranco, Palacio grew up listening to traditional Garifuna music as well as imported sounds coming over the radio from neighboring Honduras, Guatemala, the Caribbean and the United States. “Music was always a part of daily life,” said Palacio, “It was the soundtrack that we lived to.” Along with some of his peers, he joined local bands even while in high school and began developing his own voice, performing covers of popular Caribbean and Top 40 songs.
However, it was while working with a literacy project on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast in 1980 and discovering that the Garifuna language and culture was steadily dying in that country, that a strong cultural awareness took hold and his approach to music became more defined. “I saw what had happened to my people in Nicaragua. The cultural erosion I saw there deeply affected my outlook,” he said, “and I definitely had to react to that reality.”
His reaction took the form of diving deeper into the language and rhythms of the Garifuna, a unique cultural blend of West African and Indigenous Carib and Arawak Indian language and heritage. “It was a conscious strategy. I felt that music was an excellent medium to preserve the culture. I saw it as a way of maintaining cultural pride and self-esteem, especially in young people.”
Palacio became a leading figure in a growing renaissance of young Garifuna intellectuals who were writing poetry and songs in their native language. He saw the emergence of an upbeat, popular dance form based on Garifuna rhythms that became known as punta rock and enthusiastically took part in developing the form.
Palacio began performing his own songs and gained stature as a musician and energetic Garifuna artist. In 1987, he was able to hone his skills after being invited to work in England with Cultural Partnerships Limited, a community arts organization.
Returning home to Belize with new skills and a four track recording system, he helped found Sunrise, an organization dedicated to preserving, documenting and distributing Belizean music. While his academic background and self-scholarship allowed for his on-going documentation of Garifuna culture through lyrics and music, it has been his exuberance as a performer that gained him world-wide recognition.
Since 1988, Andy Palacio gained enormous popularity both in Belize and abroad, playing before audiences in the Caribbean, the Americas and Europe and Asia. These include performances at the Transmusicales Encounters in France, Carifesta in Trinidad and Tobago and in St. Kitts-Nevis, World Music Expo Essen 2002, the Rainforest World Music Festival in Malaysia, Antillanse Feesten in Belgium, HeimatKlange in Germany, the World Traditional Performing Arts Festival in Japan and several others in the United States, Mexico, Canada, Colombia and the U.K.
Around 2002, Belizean producer/musician Ivan Duran, Palacio’s longtime collaborator and founder of Belize’s pioneer label Stonetree Records, convinced Palacio that he should focus on less commercial forms of Garifuna music and look more deeply into its soul and roots.
Duran and Palacio set out to create an all-star, multi-generational ensemble of some of the best Garifuna musicians from Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. The Collective united elder statesmen such as legendary Garifuna composer Paul Nabor, with young parranda star Aurelio Martinez from Honduras. Rather then focusing on danceable styles like punta rock, the Collective explores the more soulful side of Garifuna music, such as the Latin-influenced parranda as well as the punta and gunjei rhythms.
Watina, the debut album of Andy Palacio & the Garifuna Collective, was released in February of 2007 on the Cumbancha record label. The initial recording sessions for this exceptional album took place over a 4-month period in an improvised studio inside a thatch-roofed cabin by the sea in the small village of Hopkins, Belize. It was an informal environment, where the musicians spent many hours playing together late into the night, honing the arrangements of the songs that would eventually end up on this album.
While the traditions provided the inspiration, the musicians also added contemporary elements that helped give the songs relevance to their modern context. After the sessions, Ivan Duran worked tirelessly back at his studio to craft what is surely the pinnacle of Garifuna music production to date. “The idea of the collective has been a long time in the making,” said Palacio. “The chemistry of working with different Garifuna artists, not only within Belize but also from Guatemala and Honduras, was quite appealing and very satisfying to the soul.”
Andy Palacio lived in Belize where he worked in promoting Culture and the Arts. In December 2004, he was appointed Cultural Ambassador and Deputy Administrator of the National Institute of Culture and History.
Andy Palacio died January 19, 2008, of a heart stroke.
Greatest Hits (1979)
Keimoun (beat on) (1995)
Til Da Mawnin (1997)
Wátina (Cumbancha, 2007)
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.