Throughout their four hundred year history, the Garifuna people have earned a reputation for their sense of pride in their unique community. Created in the early Seventeenth Century when the survivors of two sinking slave ships swam to the Belizean shore and began cohabitating with the indigenous Arawat tribe, the Garifuna became a culture unto itself, unlike any other. They were persistent in keeping outside influences at a distance, which helped maintain a close-knit society, complete with a unique language.
Today, less than two thousand people in Central America speak Garifuna as a primary language and the numbers are diminishing. Garifuna music has become a wonderful vehicle to help preserve the culture on a whole and to put it on a world stage. A predominant voice in a new generation of its musicians has been Aurelio Martinez, whose project Garifuna Soul is a nice microcosm of the culture. The project is in continual flux, with a variety of talented people making contributions at different junctures in time. Martinez has released an album by the same name, which is also a reflection of the ever-changing project. Recorded for the storied Stonetree Records label out of Belize, Aurelio has utilized a number of musicians, including a few lead vocalists other than himself, to allow every participant to put their own signature on the work.
Aurelio Martinez was born near La Ceiba, Honduras in Plaplaya, a small town that still has no electricity. By the age of six, he was playing percussion in front of live audiences. He built his own guitar at the age of eight and moved to La Ceiba at fourteen to study music. Traditionally, Garifuna music is played at social functions or contains lyrics that revolve around the citizens or events in a community. Garifuna Soul is a nice slice of that lifestyle.
|Aurelio on tour|
Drawing on his musical family and heritage as major influences, Martinez has endeavored to modernize the music, even including a little Spanish guitar that “seeps” into the mix. Using no less than twelve different musicians for this collection of traditional and original scores, Garifuna Soul strikes a nice balance. Prevalently featured on the disc is Rolando “Chiche Man” Sosa, playing guitar, bass, percussive instruments, saxophone and providing background vocals. Stonetree’s founder Ivan Duran contributes sideman work on a variety of guitars, including the Maya K’ekchi’ guitar.
The album was recorded at Sandy Beach Resort in Hopkins Village in Belize and the comfortable surroundings permeate into the music. The lyrics are personal and touching, with topics ranging from a son sitting on a beach at sunset, awaiting the return of his father, to a town festival, and even death itself (“When I die, sing me my song/So that I may go, never to return for a verse/So this is how the sun sets”).
Aurelio Martinez has a real sense of community. He is the first Garifuna to be elected to the Honduran congress and takes great pride in representing the indigenous people in that country who formerly had no voice in their government. His pride in his community is also apparent in his musical work.
In Guanacaste, “Garifuna Soul” and all Stonetree CDs are available at Jaime Peligro in Playa Tamarindo, Quepos and Nuevo Arenal where they will gladly sample the music for their customers. All comments concernng this article are welcome.