MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
The Central American country of Belize is mourning the death of musician Andy Palacio. Palacio died this weekend after a massive stroke. He was 47. He was dedicated to preserving the culture of the Garifuna people, a mixture of West African, indigenous Carib and Arawak Indians. In this song, he sings, I wonder who will speak with me in Garifuna in times to come.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "AMUNEGU")
ANDY PALACIO: (Singing in foreign language).
BLOCK: The Garifuna live in isolated coastal communities in Central America. And as Andy Palacio told me in an interview last spring, he realized his culture was in danger of fading away when he visited a small Garifuna community in Nicaragua in 1980.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)
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. And music, being the thing that I love most, I decided to use music as a medium for culture preservation. At least, we'd be able to use the language in songs and keep them alive.
BLOCK: Andy Palacio's latest album, "Watina," was recorded in Belize in a thatch-roofed cabin by the sea. It went to great critical acclaim.
Yasser Musa knew Andy Palacio well. He's the president of the National Institute of Culture and History in Belize. And Mr. Musa, this must be a day of great mourning in Belize.
YASSER MUSA: Yes, it is. Today, Belize is mourning because we have lost our prince of music. Andy Palacio in 2007, with the release of his album, "Watina," proved to the world that Belize is a good country and that Belize has good people. It's not just a place where tourists come and dive and go to see great forests, but it's a place that has people that are rich in their culture, that love their culture, and that are in a frame of development and in the process of development.
BLOCK: You know, when I spoke with Andy Palacio last April, he spoke with great passion about his hopes for what would happen with his Garifuna culture. Let's listen to just a bit of what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF ANDY PALACIO'S INTERVIEW)
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 to delay its death. I hope that's not true. I hope that our efforts will not only preserve Garifuna culture, but also reenergize a generation that will take pride in it to the extent that it will remain vibrant for the next hundred generations.
BLOCK: Mr. Musa, has that started to happen? That revival that he was talking about there?
MUSA: Well, I believe so. Andy has been a light - his example, his humility. And when he came off his world tour in late October, in Belize, we prepared a large concert, an outdoor concert. And over 6,000 Belizeans flocked to that concert. Our population is very small, so the scale of that concert is very huge. And the reason, I believe, that the Belizeans embraced the music and the man, Andy Palacio, is that he spoke to our soul. He spoke to who we are and who we are aspiring to be. And so we are in mourning, but yet we have so much hope. He was a true cultural activist.
You mentioned in the beginning of your interview the song when he's asking the hard questions, will my culture survive? And I think he was doing it as a kind of challenge to his own people and to the entire nation of Belize that we cannot lost our culture because then it - that's when we lose our nation. This is a lost for Belizeans, it's a loss for the family. But it's a loss for the world. The world has lost a great artist.
BLOCK: Well, Mr. Musa, thanks for taking the time to remember your friend and your colleague, Andy Palacio. Thank you so much.
MUSA: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "WATINA")
PALACIO: (Singing in foreign language)
BLOCK: Yasser Musa, president of the National Institute of Culture and History in Belize, remembering the musician Andy Palacio who'll be buried in his Garifuna village of Barranco this weekend. You can find my interview with Andy Palacio and hear more of his music at npr.org.
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