Garifuna Music

Garifuna Collective – Photo by Peter Rakossy

Garifuna is a unique culture based on the Caribbean coast of Central America (Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras) that blends elements of West African and Native Caribbean heritage.

The Garifuna people originated when two large Dutch ships, filled with a delivery of West African slaves, sunk off the coast of the Caribbean island of St. Vincent in 1635. Half of the Africans survived and intermingled with the indigenous Caribs of the region, creating a new hybrid culture.

Fiercely independent, the Garifuna community resisted French and British colonization, and were forcibly exiled to the Caribbean coast of Central America. Some were segregated and held onto their traditions and language, while others blended with the local predominant culture.

The Garifuna developed a unique culture that incorporates African traditions of music, dance, religious rites and ceremonies, Native American farming, hunting, and fishing techniques; and an African and Arawak influenced language.

Now living mainly along the Caribbean coast of the Central American countries of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, the Garifuna culture, recognized by UNESCO since March 2001 as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, displays many influences of its African heritage. This is evident when comparing their music with the indigenous music of the West African societies from which their ancestors originated.

Garifuna Collective – Photo by Peter Rakossy

The Garifuna style of music relies heavily on call and response patterns. These patterns are less overlapping than many traditional ones found in Africa, but nonetheless the Garifunas’ leader/chorus organization is very consistent with those of African styles. Garifuna music relies heavily on the drum, and in many instances their music is dictated by it.

The drums of the Garifuna are usually made of hardwoods that are uniformly shaped and carved out in the centers. The ends of the drums are covered with skins from the peccary, deer, or sheep. These drums are always played with the hands, and some drummers have been known to wrap metal wires around the drum heads to give them a snare-like sound. Some musicians accompany the drums with gourd shakers called sisira, and even instruments like the guitar, flute, and violin have been adopted from early French, English, and Spanish folk music, as well as Jamaican and Haitian Afro-Caribbean styles.

Aurelio Martinez in 2010 at Forde Festival in Norway – Photo by Angel Romero

To the Garifuna, song and dances are an integral part of their culture. These song and dance styles display a wide range of subjects like work songs, social dances and ancestral traditions. A very popular dance style is called punta, which is usually performed at wakes, holidays and parties. This involves plenty of hip movements.

Garifuna Musicians:

Andy Palacio, Aurelio Martinez, Paul Nabor, The Garifuna Collective, Umalali

Garifuna Musical Genres:

Parranda, punta rock.

Garifuna Recordings:

Various Artists – Traditional Music of the Garifuna of Belize (Folkways Records, 1982)
Andy Palacio – Greatest Hits (1979)
Andy Palacio – Keimoun (Beat on) ( Stonetree Records, 1995)
Andy Palacio – Til Da Mawnin ( Stonetree Records, 1997)
Aurelio Martinez – Garifuna Soul ‎(Stonetree Records, 2004)
Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective – Watina (2007)
Umalali: The Garifuna Women’s Project (Cumbancha, 2008)
Aurelio Martinez – Garifuna Afro-Combo ‎(Society of Sound Music, 2010)
Garifuna Music – Music From Honduras, Vol. 2 (Caprice Records, 2010)
Aurelio Martinez – Laru Beya (Stonetree Records/Real World Records, 2011)
The Garifuna Collective – Ayó (Stonetree/Cumbancha, 2014)
Aurelio Martinez – Landini (Real World Records, 2014)
Ibimeni – Garifuna traditional music from Guatemala (Sub Rosa, 2016)
Aurelio Martinez – Darandi (Stonetree Records/Real World Records, 2016)
The Garifuna Collective – Aban (Stonetree/Cumbancha, 2019)

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.
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One thought on “Garifuna Music”

  1. Hey Angel,
    First, I would like to congratulate you for writing this article about Garifuna music and two our leading music advocates, namely the late great Andy Palacio and Aurelio Martinez. You obviously did you research, because most of what you wrote erte fairly accurate. I what to address the historical origin of the Garifuna, because every journalist including yourself continuously regurgitated the erroneous European myth that the Garifuna originated from a slaves who escaped a shipwreck destined to the Caribbean. This is a blatant and ridiculous lie.
    The Garifuna were never descendants of Slaves. As a matter of fact, before Columbus set foot in the New world, Garinagu, (plural of Garifuna) were already existing in St. Vincent and the grenadines and other Caribbean Islands. Their existence can be traced to the early 1300s when Abu Bakari of Mali landed in the Caribbean. These free African explorers intermarried with the Kalinago and the Lokono to produce the Garifuna race.
    It should dawn on all writers to not follow the status quo. All black race are not descendants of slaves or Slavery. As a matter of fact nobody were born a slave. It is man’s greed for power that cause him to enslave others. For your information, Garifuna were never enslaved and they are not descendants of slavery. I have to interject here, that even though the Garifuna were never enslaved, we are identify as African, since the African blood is running through our veins. Therefore we stand United with our African American brothers and sisters and with all the African descendants who are scattered all over the world.
    Again I want to congratulate you for your article, but I urge you to make sure you are not just writing everything you read about a race or culture, there are intentional false information out there in the universe to create confusion.

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