Musician Andy Palacio of Belize Dies at Age 47

Andy Palacio

Musician Andy Palacio used music as a method of cultural preservation. He died Saturday at age 47. Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Andy Palacio, a musician and cultural icon in Belize, died Saturday after he suffered a stroke and a heart attack that triggered respiratory failure. He was 47 years old.

Palacio was a Garifuna — descended from shipwrecked slaves who settled on the east coast of Central America. Through his music, Palacio sought to preserve the vanishing culture.

"Music, being the thing that I love most, I decided to use music as a medium for cultural preservation," he said in a 2007 interview on All Things Considered.

"I remember an elderly Garifuna statesman here in Belize saying we cannot stop Garifuna culture from dying and that all we can do is delay its death," Palacio said. "I hope that's not true."

Yasser Musa, president of the National Institute of Culture and History in Belize, talks with Melissa Block about Palacio's music and legacy.

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Andy Palacio i

Andy Palacio, a Garifuna from Belize, uses music as a method of cultural preservation on his new album, Watina. Yuquilla hide caption

itoggle caption Yuquilla
Andy Palacio

Andy Palacio, a Garifuna from Belize, uses music as a method of cultural preservation on his new album, Watina.


Andy Palacio died on Saturday, January 19. This interview was recorded after the release of what turnd out to be his last CD, "Watina." Banning Eyre later named 'Watina' NPR's top World Music album of 2007.

Through his music, Andy Palacio is trying to prevent his culture's extinction.

Palacio is a Garifuna from Belize. His people are the descendants of West African slaves who were shipwrecked off the Caribbean island of St. Vincent in the 1600s. They mixed with indigenous Carib Indians, and eventually were forced off the island by the British and settled along the east coast of Central America.

Today, the Garifuna people live in isolated communities in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Palacio's latest album, Watina, is an attempt to document and spread his people's unique culture.

Palacio tells Melissa Block that he realized the culture was in danger of fading away when he visited a small Nicaraguan Garifuna community in 1980 and found that no one under the age of 50 could speak the Garifuna language.

He says he hopes his efforts will not only preserve Garifuna culture, but also re-energize a generation to take pride in its traditions so "it will remain vibrant for the next hundred generations."



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