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A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!


Album, CD and Download

Out Now on Real World Records

CD with 12-page booklet (CDRW 180)

UK Distribution by Proper


This, album, the second from Garifuna artist Aurelio Martinez, from Plaplaya, on the Atlantic coast of Honduras, Central America, is described as ‘a testament to the struggles of the past and hopes for the future of the Garifuna, a community originating from African slaves, ship-wrecked on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent.’ These marooned slaves naturally intermingled with the local people, the Callinango, themselves a mixture of Arawak and Carib groups. The resulting hybrid group - the Gurifuna, have had a history filled with strife, from battles with British colonisers and, their mass deportation in the late 18th century, when they were left ‘for dead’ on the Caribbean coast of Central America (Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras - mainland, and the island of Roatan), to the present, where in Honduras, for example, they only represent 10% of the population and are subsequently, under threat, due to land speculation. For vocalist/guitarist/ percussionist/composer Aurelio, from the tiny Honduran village of Plaplaya then, who’ll be appearing at this year’s WOMAD Festival in Charlton Park, Malmesbury, Laru Beya, on which former mentor, Senegalese star Youssou N’ Dour contributes his vocal talents to two songs,  would seem something of a triumph. Though, perhaps the greatest triumph of the Garifuna people is the fact that as of 2001, UNESCO proclaimed their language, dance and music a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in Nicaragua, Honduras and Belize.’ Like his late friend, musician Andy Palacio, a fellow Garifuna, whose recordings and beliefs expressed their common hopes for the future of their music and culture, Aurelio now seems destined to further establish both elements in the minds of his listeners.

Ever one to experiment, Aurelio, not content to rely on already known (by fans of Central American music) rhythms of punta (Ereba) or paranda (Ineweyu), also employs the rarely recorded rhythms of semi-sacred hungu-hungl or African-inflected gunchei rhythm, generally connected with women’s singing. On ‘Tio Sam’ for example, the song ends with a portion of a traditional female song, set to the gunchei beat, as sung by a chorus of Garifuna women. Please bear in mind that my computer is not able to apply the proper accents and inflection marks particular to the Gurifuna musical terms!

Laru Beya translates to ‘by the Beach’, fitting, as all Garifuna communities line the coast. In his village, Aurelio is known as a preserver of tradition, as combined with his own unique musical talents. Despite its high recording values, there’s an intimacy to this recording that gives it a uniquely live feeling, as though Aurelio and his musicians were with you, singing and playing directly to you.

Opener ‘Lubara Wanwa’, (‘Waiting for the Arrival of a Son’) tells the tale of a sailor returning from the sea to await the birth of a child which may not be his. It is melodically soulful, with softly lyrical guitar and accompanying clopping rhythms - an instant reminder of why we should go to WOMAD and hear Aurelio perform this winning number live. Former mentor Youssou N’ Dour contributes his distinctive vocal styling, (at times in English) especially for this recording. Rife with sunshine and gentle urgency, this is a track which encourages repeated listenings.

‘Laru Beya’ speaks of multiculturalism, with its’ African sounding chorus of female voices and, seemingly, Calypso, via a lulling male voice, which, to the imaginative mind, speak-sings to us before a row of swaying palm trees. Steady backing rhythm, Caribbean sounding guitar, and sassy horns, alongside of percussions stepping in time, together, lend an air of tropical to the mix. Orchestra Baobab vocalists Rudy and Balla add a verse in French.

Track three, ‘Yange’ (Aurelio’s late brother’s nickname) begins with a man speaking, while a guitar lightly trills in the background, before Aurelio’s sure, steady voice glides out over them, and shaken and beaten percussives join in. A group of backup singers lend support, moving as a wall of voices, interjecting brief responses. It is a plaintively rendered song about one who is no longer with us.

‘Weibayuwa’ (Sharks) aka politicians, featuring Senegalese rappers Sen Kumpe, hip hop musicians from the impoverished medina of Dakar, continues along a subtly hypnotic trail, with expressive guitar opening the way for energetic vocals and earthy, full on percussions, generating melodic music that makes you want to dance along to its upbeat rhythms. Clapping further encourages involvement. Aurelio ought to know about politics as he was a Honduran congressman c. 2006-10!

Instantly epic, in its’ own understated way, ‘Yurumei’ (‘Island of St. Vincent’), puts us in another place, one we’ve been expertly guided to by Aurelio, who sings fervently against restrained but rumbling brass, and simmering drums, making for a strong, multi-layered track as arresting as the notion of a cooling drink on a dry, hot day, which is apt, as is the bevy of intermittent voices looks back to the aforementioned ship-wreck and exile, encouraging the retracing of the Garifuna roots.

By this time, I assumed there would be no clinkers in this collection, and happily, with ‘Ineweyu’ I was proven right yet again. Narrative in tone, with loping rhythms, steady speak-singing, a horn lightly chiming in, and the purring feminine voice of Senegalese singer Njaaya weaving into and away from the leading male voice, this is a pleasing soup of soulfulness, steeped in storytelling traditions.

Romantic and sultry, ‘Bisien Nu’ (My Love for You) with its’ call and response vocals and rhythms, speaks of a lovelorn youth requesting his sweetheart’s hand, as two male voices vocalise, with wry humour and longing, against a backdrop of steamy paranda rhythms. Here Aurelio carries on the ways of his father and other Garifuna musicians before him who ‘once wrote and sang ballads under windows and on street corners.’ In a first ever for non-Garifuna artists, the Orchestra Baobab singers perform a verse of this traditional song in the Garifuna language.

‘Mayahuaba’ (‘Don’t Cry’) is the one word phrase that is sung clearly at the beginning of this song, backed by clear, melodic guitar, interwoven with Aurelio’s fervent vocals and those of a backing vocalist. The song expresses a theme common to Garifuna music and culture, that of orphans, in this case, one who has lost his parents to AIDS. This reflectively straight forward song leaves space to appreciate Aurelio’s distinctively expressive guitar. And it is one track that would definitely grace the night when it is, hopefully, performed live at WOMAD UK 2011.

‘Tio Sam’ (‘Uncle Sam’) about the difficulties inherent to U.S. immigration, gets off to a hesitant start, with Aurelio’s singing piercing a light veil of instrumentation before undulating drums,  guitar and ardent voices wave along, as multi-layered vocals weave through – standing firm by the song’s conclusion.  This memorable song draws on the female genre of gunchéi, a product of French influences rarely heard on recordings of Garifuna music.

‘Wamada’ (‘Our Mutual Friend’), a tribute to Aurelio’s late friend, Andy Palacio, is a traditional song which is part of the Garifuna’s sacred Dügü ceremonies, and rarely, if ever recorded. Captured in one take, it tells of Andy’s hammock swinging in the afterlife, symbolising his ‘life of ease among the honoured ancestors.’ The distinctively emotive voice of Youssou N’ Dour adds to the moment, as Aurelio’s expressive guitar playing resonates. One word which is very clear here is ‘Africa.’

‘Nuwaruguma’ (My Star) shines with funky rhythms, as Aurelio sings to listeners in his convincing and emotive way, and the song moves up a pace in tempo. As it progresses, a bittersweet tinge emerges, undercut by brassy horns, which interlope between vocals, steady percussion and twanging guitar. Aurelio first learned this song from his mother, who drew on traditional solidarity songs or abeimahani, in which the Caribbean Amerindian influences on Garifuna music can be most strongly felt. Though songs of this type are usually sung by women a cappella, Aurelio and Duran decided to set the melody to chords. But when Aurelio forgot the words and rang his mother in the U.S., she insisted on taking part, thus, she speaks some verses in the background of the recording!

The collection ends on a bright note with ‘Ereba’ on which everyone, Aurelio, singers and musicians  alike wonder metaphorically, who will make the traditional dish, Casava bread and carry on other Garifuna traditions, if the youth recoil from the work involved with carrying them on. As if in remembrance, voices chime together near the end, more and more distant as they sadly, leave us.

The good news is, however, that you can now buy your own copy of Laru Beya and listen to it whenever you like, which, if you enjoy it as much as I do, will be any time you’d like a vibrantly ‘live’ backdrop to your life.

Indeed, if this album is meant to prove that ‘Garifuna music is alive and well’, as Aurelio has said it is, it’s safe to say that its mission has been beautifully accomplished. Aurelio will be performing live at this year’s WOMAD in Charlton Park, and I for one can’t wait!


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