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World Music Features

Garifuna Women's Project

By Michael Stone
Published May 9, 2008

Propelled by the infectious rhythms of Garifuna drumming and the support of Andy Palacio and producer Ivan Duran, Umalali documents the dynamic vocal artistry of some 50 Garifuna women from Honduras, Guatemala and Belize. Seven years in the making, the album eloquently portrays the ongoing struggle to

preserve the Garifuna way of life.

As the motivating force behind a decade-long string of superb projects documenting the soulful music of Caribbean Central America’s Garifuna people, Belizean record producer and musician Ivan Duran is no lightweight when it comes to staying true to the culture while looking keenly to the future. When he founded the Stonetree label more than a decade ago, his mission was to bring the African-Amerindian music of the region to a world-class level—a journey that went stratospheric last year with Andy Palacio’s multiple award-winning album Wátina. Now that Garifuna music has hit the world stage, Duran has turned his discerning ear to yet another aspect of the sound with a captivating new recording by the Garifuna Women’s Project.

 

“I didn’t set out to do an anthropological or ethnographic album on Garifuna women in Central America,” he clarifies. “We were seeking striking songs to develop, but with a contemporary twist. To me, this is the best chance we actually have to preserve the culture. If we can engage young Garifuna by making the traditional somehow modern, cool and accessible, we might just show them that people outside the community, internationally, recognize and value Garifuna culture. We see that happening already with the success of Wátina.”

 

Showcasing three generations of stunning female singers from Honduras, Guatemala and Belize, the Stonetree/Cumbancha release Umalali (the Garifuna word for “voice”) celebrates women as the cohesive force in Garifuna social, cultural, and spiritual life. Not only does the album highlight their vocal artistry, but it reveals them to be captivating storytellers whose poignant, lyrical narratives address the everyday struggle to preserve family, household, community, and the Garifuna way of life in a rapidly globalizing world.

 

Buoyed by powerful fronting voices with a palpable West African and Amerindian  flavor, Umalali documents a fiercely percussive call-and response oral tradition devoted to social commentary and folk stories—a tradition that’s rooted in the sacred system of ancestral connections. Garifuna women’s music is profoundly contemporary in scope, but at the same time, it draws much of its energy from enduring rituals similar to other New World African spirit-possession traditions in Cuba, Haiti, Louisiana, Jamaica, Brazil, and elsewhere.