Andy Palacio, erstwhile star of Belizian Garifuna Punta rock has taken a turn for the more introspective recently, and by way of contrast is finding an audience way beyond his familiar territory
Palacio’s music is at once familiar and new territory. He sings on his new album Wátina in Garifuna, the language of the little-known people of the same name in Central America and the songs on the new album are strongly embedded in this identity. So why is it so familiar?
As Palacio himself says of the Garifuna, when we meet in a noisy office in central Soho, few enough people even know where Belize is let alone about Garifuna culture. The Garifuna account for only a small minority of Belize.
Palacio appears to be a man on a mission, spurred on by his belief Garifuna culture is under threat. By taking his music global Palacio said he hopes to secure its future and the future of the Garifuna language, music and traditions.
My desire is to keep my identity strong and to keep my Garifuna culture alive and dynamic in such a way that it can be passed on to future generations as it has been passed on to us
I asked him what drove him to create the new album, with its departure from his previous styles and its overt political spin: “My desire to keep my identity strong and to keep my Garifuna culture alive and dynamic in such a way that it can be passed on to future generations as it has been passed on to us.”
Palacio continued that he had an aim in helping create the Garifuna Collective and the album: “I hope to be able to expose more of the lesser-known forms of Garifuna music through future recordings and live performances. I also hope to demonstrate this as an option to other Garifuna musicians.”
But Palacio is not just a musician, he holds a position as administrator for the National Institute of Culture in Belize. it is is in his music however, that he may be most successful in spreading his message.
I hope to be able to expose more of the lesser-known forms of Garifuna music through future recordings and live performances. I also hope to demonstrate this as an option to other Garifuna musicians
At the heart of the music is a fantastic story, and one Palacio finds he is repeating more and more often by way of explaining the album: it’s a tale of slave ships, shipwrecks, a bid for freedom, a meeting of African slaves and the indigenous Arawak and Carib people of St Vincent.
What resulted was an almost constant fight over the centuries to keep their individuality alive, which is a fight that he said continues today in the face of globalisation. This story is the bigger picture but what comes out in Wátina is a series of intensely personal songs, short stories, snatches of religious rhythms and chants, and Palacio talks fondly of each one, and each has a particular resonance for him.
He said: “Wátina was crafted utilizing our traditional rhythms as the root and blending in the influences that define us as a Caribbean people living on the mainland of Central America”.
And the familiarity? The music discusses the modern issues of development and tourism, the environment in Central America and the where the rhythms of the music certainly have strong African roots there are elements of different Caribbean styles, and a certain mainstream spin.
Palacio said: “I listened to and observed the successes of artists from other regions who have been able to make contemporary music using their traditional rhythms and their maternal languages”.
Andy Palacio & the Garifuna Collective’s Wátina is presented by Cumbancha, a new label established by longtime head of music research at Putumayo
Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective will play live at Cargo on 19 June.
Andy Palacio’s MySpace
Wikipedia entry on Garifuna