I had not heard of the Garifuna people until 2007 when Andy Palacio made an international splash with his efforts to preserve Garifuna culture including language and music. Unfortunately, Palacio’s life was cut short in 2008, right at the time when his star ascended. A Garifuna women’s recording project followed the death of Palacio and then the music seeped out of my life, as music tends to do. Now, Aurelio Martinez, a 39-year old Garifuna musician hailing from Honduras, rekindles the sparks of the Garifuna legacy that Palacio left in his wake. His album, Laru Beya distributed in North America by Subpop’s African arm Next Ambiance, promises to entice a few hips.
In 2007 I was in no position to describe Garifuna music with its perfect blend of African polyphonic rhythms and rattle and roll of Latin American indigenous people. And I’m no closer to untangling these roots now. The history of the Garifuna people, former African slaves that first found refuse on the Caribbean island, St. Vincent and then migrated to Central American countries explains the musical roots. However, on Aurelio’s album, Senegalese influences come into play and then everything from mambo and old-style Caribbean dance music to hip hop crop up. And the thing is, it’s hard to see where one genre starts and another one ends as the lush rhythms snake their way into a dance groove. Does it matter? I’m thankful for the liner notes and I know I won’t be the only journalist using those notes as a cheat sheet.
Each song on this album carries its own signature and I’m reminded of the richness of world music, the abundance of danceable beats, and vocal phrasings available to global musicians. Here we feel the world coming together with Central America, the Caribbean, and the African continent celebrating the earth’s rhythms. And if you think I’ve used the word “rhythm” too many times in this review, then listen to this recording because it features rhythms with exclamation points. For instance listen to the clave rhythms on Ineweyu which give way to the Cuban-son style Bisien Nu and then this is followed by a cappella vocal harmonies that begin the song Mayahuabà backed by a lilting guitar. And if that’s not enough for world music fans, Senegalese pop star Youssou N’Dour appears on the opening track Lubara Wanwa and Wamada.
So if you think you’ve heard it all when it comes to Afro-Latin music, think again. Aurelio offers us musical treasures on Laru Beya. And it takes several listens, if not hundreds to let it all sink in. The learning curve is as steep as they come.
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