The African-Amerindian Garifuna people of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras maintain clear West African elements in their music. The garaón drum ensemble includes the lead primera or heart drum, the counter-rhythmic segunda or shadow drum, and (sometimes) the steady bass-line tercera, plus turtle-shell percussion, conch shell horns, claves, bottle percussion, maracas and a variety of shakers and scrapers drawn from Amerindian traditions. Garifuna paranda (ballad) artists add the acoustic guitar, borrowed from Spanish colonials.
Garifuna music also shows English, Jamaican, French, Haitian and Spanish American influences. Field Recordings From Belize, 16 tracks recorded in 2002-2004, reveals a strongly percussive music in which vocal artistry figures prominently. Garifuna music occurs in sacred settings such as the dugú spirit-possession ceremony, which fetes the ancestors, who instruct the living, and in secular songs to accompany work, recreation, children’s play and community celebrations. This music, which preceded punta rock, a popular fusion of Garifuna singing and percussion with modern amplified music that emerged in the 1980s, has not markedly changed since the earliest field recordings made by ethnomusicologist Ruth Stone in the early 1950s.
Garifuna singer, composer and guitarist Aurelio Martínez grew up in a small fishing village on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, taking up his father’s guitar, apprenticing as a dugú drummer, and learning the traditional repertoire from his grandmother, a talented singer. He moved in his late teens to the port of La Ceiba, where he formed the noted Garifuna ensemble Lita Ariran. A veteran of tours in Europe, Japan, Central America, Mexico and the United States, Martínez brings a bittersweet vocal style to the paranda and other traditional Garifuna song forms. Previously heard on Songs Of the Garifuna (JVC) and the critically acclaimed Paranda: Africa In Central America (Stonetree), and one of the youngest paranda interpreters, Martínez is a gifted, powerfully evocative singer. His debut solo album, Garifuna Soul, recently captured the attention of AfroPop Worldwide. Garifuna music is unlike anything else in the region, and with Garifuna Soul—backed by some of Belize’s best studio musicians, who innovate tastefully on Garifuna percussion, saxophone, electric and bass guitars—Martínez takes the music into the future without surrendering his roots.
Belizean spoken-word artist Leroy Young, “The Grandmaster,” grew up in Belize City’s rough-and-tumble streets. Youthful delinquency introduced him to the “Rasta Ramada” (the notorious city prison), before he turned his life around as a dub poet and street performer. His first recording, Just Like That..., deconstructs the daily fare of political corruption, greed, police brutality, racial discrimination, street violence and the vagaries of human relations among poor working Belizeans. Young reworks their experience into an intensely personal narrative that is anything but the standard posturing gangsta drive-by.
“Que Sera Sera” is a delightfully warped, tongue-in-cheek Creole mambo, complete with Perez Prado grunts and a locked-down Cuban clave, while “Black And White” offers a pointed a commentary on racism: “The deadliest weapon is the mind of the oppressed.” Young’s lyrics are verbally adept, barbed but humorous, tender and insightful, impatient but optimistic in the face of the everyday struggle that is life for Belize City’s poor majority. Performed to the stripped-down, infectious groove of producer and multi-instrumentalist Ivan Duran’s arrangements, Just Like That... is an affirmative portrait of life on the Caribbean periphery.