Umalali: The 'Voice' Of The Garifuna


Umalali at KEXP

Umalali performs at KEXP. Jon Kertzer hide caption

itoggle caption Jon Kertzer


  • Host: Jon Kertzer
  • Engineer: James Nixon
Umalali (300)

Members of Umalali. Sarah Weeden hide caption

itoggle caption Sarah Weeden

Umalali ("Voice") is a Belize-based group assembled by producer and musician Ivan Duran to help revive the Garifuna culture of Central America. Duran has been a key figure in the revitalization of the African-Caribbean culture of the Garifuna, whose ancestors came from Africa to the Caribbean several hundred years ago, and settled along the coast of present-day Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. In 2007, Duran teamed up with singer Andy Palacio to produce the successful Watina album, and took more than 10 years to research women's music in the region and put together the Garifuna Women's Project.

Palacio and his group toured the U.S. in 2007, and even performed a live session at KEXP. Tragically, Palacio died the following January, and the 2008 tour of Umalali became a tribute to him and his work reviving the Garifuna music, language and culture. The touring version of Umalali includes three female singers, with five supporting musicians, led by the mother-daughter team of Sofia and Sylvia Blanco from Livingston, Guatemala, and Desere Diego from southern Belize. The two percussionists play the African-derived traditional drums of the Garifuna people, and other musicians supported the singers on electric guitars and bass.

The group performed an a cappella song, "Amiehasi," followed by two songs from its album: "Merua" and "Fuleisei." Umalali closed the session with "Watina," the title song from Palacio's album, performed in tribute to his musical legacy. Umalali continues to carry on his work and bring the beauty of Garifuna culture to international audiences. I felt lucky to have had them in our studios.

Originally recorded Sept. 15, 2008.

Listen to the previous Favorite Session, or see our full archive.

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Umalali: The Garifuna Women's Project

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