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Musician Preserves Fading African-Caribbean Culture
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Musician Preserves Fading African-Caribbean Culture

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: Andy Palacio is trying to prevent his culture's extinction through music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATINA")

ANDY PALACIO: (Singing foreign language)

BLOCK: 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. There they mixed with indigenous Carib Indians. They were eventually forced off the island by the British and settled along the east coast of Central America. Today they live in isolated communities in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Andy Palacio's latest album, "Watina," is an attempt to document and spread his people's unique culture. That culture he realized was in danger of fading away when he visited a small Garifuna community in Nicaragua. It was in 1980.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WATINA")

PALACIO: What I saw was a generation of Garifuna people who no longer knew how to speak our language in such a way that nobody under the age of 50 was able to communicate with me in our language.

BLOCK: When you started thinking about that, how did you figure out what could be done to try to preserve Garifuna culture?

PALACIO: I really had no clue what steps needed to be taken. I thought there was a need for a personal effort on my part to do what I could. And music, being the thing that I love most, I decided to use music as a medium for cultural preservation. At least we'd be able to use the language in the songs and keep them alive.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIDAN ABAN")

BLOCK: What are the musical roots of the music we're hearing here?

PALACIO: There are quite a few rhythms, the most identifiable ones being the (foreign language spoken), which you will hear on tracks like "Weyu Larigi Weyu." And that goes like...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WEYU LARIGI WEYU")

PALACIO: And then there are experimentations with another rhythm called gunjay(ph), which you're likely to hear on "Gaganbadiba." And the gunjay beat is tudum-tudum-tsikik-tudum.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GAGANBADIBA")

BLOCK: And do this trace back in some way to African rhythms at all?

PALACIO: I would love to be able to make that connection. I only have a personal belief and feeling that our drumming really goes back to Africa. I have been able to identify some similarities.

BLOCK: So you hear something in there though?

PALACIO: Yes, I do. And I feel a lot.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GAGANBADIBA")

BLOCK: One of the songs on the CD talks about one of the key struggles, as I understand it, of the Garifuna people and that's about land rights, which is what a lot of these struggles over culture and indigenous peoples come down to. This is the song "Miami."

PALACIO: That is true.

BLOCK: Why don't you tell us what the story of this song is?

PALACIO: The village of Miami in the Honduras is known for its beautiful beaches. The creator of the song looks at the situation where they had traditionally had access to the beach, to the sea, and to all the areas surrounding the community. And upon this portion of land being sold over to a private interest, they no longer had the same access.

Like I said, it's not just for that one community but this is something that we face in several Garifuna communities along the coast of Central America.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "MIAMI")

BLOCK: And a lot of this land is being sold to luxury resorts, gated hotels, and things like that.

PALACIO: That is the case. That is the case. It's mostly for tourism development, which in a way has some benefits for the community, but in another way it means the loss of resorts and the loss of access also.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MIAMI")

BLOCK: The last song on the album is sort of an anthem, it seems to me, about preservation and trying to hold on to Garifuna culture.

PALACIO: Yes. I felt that I needed to make that contribution. Those are words that I believe I had always wanted to say and an issue that I wanted permanently documented.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMUNEGU")

PALACIO: 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. I hope that's not true. I hope that our efforts will not only preserve Garifuna culture but also re-energize a generation that will take pride in it to the extent that it will remain vibrant for the next hundred generations.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMUNEGU")

BLOCK: Mr. Palacio, do you have kids yourself?

PALACIO: Yes, I do. I have five children.

BLOCK: When you talk to your kids, do they understand and see it as important as you do to preserve Garifuna culture?

PALACIO: Not as yet. Not as yet. My children are like other normal children their age. And sometimes the priorities of my generation and the priorities of their generation do not connect.

BLOCK: What do you do about that?

PALACIO: I make songs that hopefully they love and listen to and sing and understand.

BLOCK: Andy Palacio, thanks very much for talking with us.

PALACIO: It's an absolute pleasure. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AMUNEGU")

BLOCK: Andy Palacio & the Garifuna Collective's album is "Watina," which means I called out. To hear more of his music, visit our Web site, npr.org.

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