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Strong African traditions: The Garifuna troubadour.

Laru Beya

By Aurelio Martinez

Real World

Cat: CDRW180

The Garifuna language is spoken by the descendants of Carib, Arawak and West African people in Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize, communities that originated from African slaves shipwrecked on the Caribbean island of St Vincent. Laru Beya is the new album by Aurelio Martinez, a Garifuna artist based on the coast of Honduras, Central America.

Aurelio Martinez grew up in the tiny Honduran village of Plaplaya. He has been at the forefront of the preservation and modernisation of Garifuna musical tradition with his distinctive and powerful vocals, as well as his talent as a composer, guitarist and percussionist.

His work was picked up by one of Africa's best-known musical ambassadors, Youssou N'Dour. Thanks to N'Dour, in 2008 Martinez travelled to Senegal to collaborate and record with the singer, adding to his arrangements and exploring the musical links between the Garifuna sound and West Africa.

The musical links between Africa and Central Africa are not as well known as those between the continent and the Caribbean, but this album will hopefully redress this balance.

For the Garifuna, the links with Africa are always present. As Martinez says: "We arrived in Honduras two hundred years ago, and African traditions are still strong."

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Laru Beya translates as 'By the Beach', a reference to the fact that all Garifuna communities lie on the coast. It was after a shipwreck, crossing the dreaded Middle Passage from West Africa, that the human cargo of slaves wound up on the island now known as St Vincent, where they intermingled with the Callinago, themselves a mixture of Arawak and Caribs.

The resulting hybrid group, known as the Garifuna, fought British colonisers and then, in the late 18th century, were deported to the Caribbean coast of Central America, as Martinez recounts in his song 'Yurumei', the Garifuna name for St Vincent. To this day, the Garifuna are still a minority group, accounting for just 10% of the population in Nicaragua, Honduras and Belize--but in 2001, Unesco proclaimed the language, dance and music of the Garifuna a 'Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity'.

The young Martinez made his own guitars from cans and fishing line. He began learning sacred drumming from his relatives and performed at important adults-only religious ceremonies at the age of six. By the time he was 14, Martinez was already a respected musician with a firm grounding in Garifuna rhythms, ritual and songs.

His musical career was shaped thanks to his Belizean friend and fellow musician, the late Andy Palacio. The two struck up a decades-long friendship working for the future of Garifuna music and culture.

On Laru Beya, Martinez was keen to explore African musical links to Garifuna tradition further. N'Dour contributes his unique vocal abilities to two songs on the album, 'Wamada' and 'Lubara Wanwa'--and while in the capital of Senegal, Dakar, he was joined in the studio by Orchestra Baobab.

The orchestra learnt a verse of Garifuna lyrics phonetically to lay down on the song 'Bisienu', and members of N'Dour's legendary band, Super Etoile de Dakar, helped Martinez go to the Senegalese capital's Medina district to find rappers and singers whose Wolof lyrics lend urgency to tracks such as 'Weibayuwa'.

Martinez's critique of the politicians back in Honduras has a distinct credibility--he is also a politician, having become a representative to the Honduran National Congress in 2005, the first representative of African descent in the country's history.

At the heart of every song on Laru Beya beats a traditional Garifuna rhythm, and not just the most widely known, popularised rhythms that are familiar to fans of Central American music. Exploring other traditional beats, Aurelio uses the rarely recorded rhythms such as the semi-sacred hungu-hungu or the African-inflected gunchei rhythm, usually connected with women's singing. The CD was recorded in Honduras, Belize and Senegal.
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Author:Williams, Stephen
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Sound recording review
Date:Mar 1, 2011
Words:643
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