OK, another look at traditional music now, this one from our resident tunesmith David Was. He's been tracking what he calls endangered musical species lately. He's come up with a gem. Here's Dave.

DAVID WAS: While naturalists fret about the disappearance of the white headed vulture or the delta smelt, the United Nations has created a category for endangered human cultures. It's called "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity." At the top of that list are the people known as the Garifuna, coastal dwellers of Central America, and bearers of a unique brand of Afro-Caribbean music and dance.

(Soundbite of Garifuna music)

WAS: That's the focus of the Garifuna Women's project, now a recording and touring entity. For decades, Belizean music producer Ivan Duran has painstakingly recorded them in kitchens and living rooms, later adding elaborate arrangements in a proper studio back home. A similar formula took the world-music scene by storm last year on the album "Watina," featuring the late Andy Palacio and the so called Garifuna Collective, which will be touring with the women this spring across the United States.

(Soundbite of Garifuna music)

WAS: A new album, "Umalili," by the Garifuna's Women's Project has just arrived in stores. These women have been keepers of the oral culture of the Garifuna ever since an African slave ship ran aground off St. Vincent in 1635. Blending with the island's Carib Indians, they survived encounters with French and English colonists and wound up scattered across Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Belize. While the men-folk tended to the sea, the women kept the cultural fires ablaze.

The stories they tell are culled from everyday life, its struggles, and its sorrows. The album's opening track, "My Grandchild," sung by the Garifuna's most accomplished voice, Sofia Blanco, is an appeal to a young woman not to follow a life of fleshly sin.

(Soundbite of song "Nibari -My Grandchild")

WAS: Let me have a word with you, my grandchild, she sings with a plaintive wail. Leave behind those street-walking girlfriends of yours. That is not glory. That is not luck.

Accompanied by guitar and a bass drum, her vibrato-laden voice is almost Edith Piaf-like in its naked emotionality.

Other tales told are of the ravages of Hurricane Hattie, sung by a woman named Sarita. During recording, she often was too busy with family and household chores to spare an hour to sing. And the last track on the collection, Sad News by Julia Nunez, is perhaps the most affecting.

(Soundbite of song "Sad News")

WAS: Recalling the death of her son, a policeman in Belize, she sings, "Oh, what sad news I receive at noon today. What will become of me now that you're gone?" Garifuna culture may be endangered, but the Women's Project creates a legacy that will endure.

(Soundbite of Garifuna Music)

CHADWICK: Our reviewer David Was is half of the musical duo "Was Not Was." You can hear full songs from the Garifuna Women's Collective CD and discover more world music at our music site at

Day to Day is a production of NPR News with contributions from I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Madeleine Brand.

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