11 February 2007

Andy Palacio: Garifuna Ambassador (CD Review)

Andy Palacio & the Garifuna Collective: Wátina
(Cumbancha)Andy Palacio & the garifuna Collective: Watina
buy CD | Listen To Watina

It is isn't necessary to be entranced by the story of the Garifuna people to enjoy the music of Andy Palacio. The rhythms and melodies give hints of Afropop, yet the swing and the maraca infuse a distinctly Latin-Caribbean flavor.

Despite these influences, the music is unique. Raw and rattly drum beats are paired with guitar and vocal harmonies on the title track, for example, which tells of a person stranded on a road as drivers zip by, unsympathetic. Such everyday occurances are a common theme in Garifuna music. Other songs include the bluesy prayer "Weyu Larigi Weyu" with its call-and-response refrain; the upbeat reggae-meets-Garifuna call for unity "Lidan Aban;" and the Paranda-style guitar piece "Sin Precio" with its somber message of feeling worthless.

Born and raised in the Atlantic coast village of Barranco, Belize, Palacio heard a mix of traditional and imported music, and played both in his early musical career. His music took a turn while he was working with a literacy project in Nicaragua in 1990 and he realized how the Garifuna language was dying out.

"I saw what happened to my people. The cultural erosion I saw deeply affected my outlook," Palacio says, "and I definitely reacted to that reality." His response was to become a musical ambassador for things Garifuna, helping other musicians get recognized, and recently cutting this album of songs based on traditional Garifuna rhythms.

While the music stands alone, the story of The Garifuna people is the stuff of legend, ripe for wider appreciation. Essentially, they emerged from a transportation accident. Two European slave ships sunk off the coast of St. Vincent in 1635. The surviving slaves mixed with the local population, and spread to the Central American mainland. [more history]. They have expanded from fewer than 2,000 people in 1800 to more than 200,000 today, and the work of artists such as Palacio (who tours in fall 2007) and Aurelio Martinez (who tours in spring 2007) are bringing the culture wider global recognition it richly deserves. This is a must-have album for curious ears.

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