The Story of The Garifuna Collective in Belize

by McNab Editorial Team

The Garinagu people of Belize can trace their origins to a group of captives stolen from West Africa and shipwrecked off the coast of St. Vincent. The group mixed with the indigenous Arawak, before the British deported them to Honduras. What started as a settlement of roughly 2,000 has grown into a world population numbering over half of a million. The Garifuna now populate the coastal regions of Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Belize, and also live in communities in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New Orleans. Although for the Garinagu, Garifuna music goes beyond entertainment; it is used for storytelling, stress relief, and healing. Most importantly, Garifuna music is a vehicle for community building.

“Music helps us get through hard times, as individuals, and at the community level.”

Al Obando, audio engineer and multi-instrumental recording artist of The Garifuna Collective shares, “Sometimes as musicians, we get into quarrels about day-to-day stuff, but generally, when we come together to play, that anger and frustration are healed through the songs.

The Garifuna Collective

While the Garifuna are famous for the energetic musical style known as Punta, the music of The Garifuna Collective more accurately fits the traditional style known as Paranda.“Paranda is serenade music,” explains Denmark Flores, drummer with The Garifuna Collective. “It is soulful and relaxing, and each song carries a different story.”

The concept for The Garifuna Collective came during the final stages of recording Andy Palacio’s hit album Wátina, describes Ivan Duran of Stonetree Records, The Garifuna Collective’s manager, and record producer. “Andy was the face, but he was just one of many other singers and composers on that record, and he didn’t want to be the only name… so the idea of calling it The Garifuna Collective was more than appropriate.”

The Watina Album

The Wátina album was released in 2007, only a year before Palacio’s tragic death in 2008. Before his death, Andy Palacio was named Artist for Peace by UNESCO and won the prestigious WOMEX Award. Wátina has since been voted #1 World Music album of all time by

“Wátina means I called out,” explains Duran. “The album was called like that because it was Andy’s dream to draw attention to his culture and to his people, through music.” Palacio’s death came as a major shock to Garifuna communities the world over and was especially devastating for members of the collective. The band, however, decided to stick together, but not with any single named leader. Rather, recounts Duran, the band chose to go forward solely as The Garifuna Collective.

The Ayo Album

In 2013, The Garifuna Collective released Ayo meaning Goodbye in Garifuna, as a tribute to the legend, Andy Palacio. In 2018, The Garifuna Collective traveled to Spain to perform at one of the world music industry’s most influential events, The World Music Expo WOMEX. “It was magical,” exclaims Duran, reliving the memory. “I’ve never seen them play so inspired, and what was incredible was the reaction of the crowd. They were totally connected with the band!”

After the last song, the crowd was relentless and demanded an encore; that is something that is strictly prohibited at this kind of showcase. For only the second time ever in the history of WOMEX, The Garifuna Collective returned to the stage for one final song and left the audience in tears. After a captivating performance at WOMEX, the band signed over 25 dates for 2019, including destinations such as North America, Europe, and for the first time Latin America and Africa.

Their Latest Album: Hamala

As if a world tour isn’t enough, The Garifuna Collective further released a brand-new album in 2019 entitled HAMALA meaning Let Them Fly. The album is available on CD all across Belize and can be purchased online through Stonetree Records via Performing the rhythms of their ancestors, The Garifuna Collective have persisted through challenging times and hardship, and have evolved the traditional sounds through their own new expressions. Through the work of The Garifuna Collective, the spirit and passion of Andy Palacio lives on. Like the drums, which beat at the heart of their music, the Garifuna people are alive and well; in Belize, and beyond.

Written by G. Michael Bowen. Header photo courtesy of The Garifuna Collective. 

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