The Garifuna people are one of the most unlikely success stories in the long sordid histories of both the African diaspora AND the Native American genocide. Remnants of an African group mixed in varying degress with local groups of Arawaks and Caribs in the Lesser Antilles, these refugees were long ago relocated to the Central American coasts centered around the not-so-golden triangle where
Enter Aurelio, aka Aurelio Martinez, from
The opening song ‘Lubara Wanwa’ is not untypical. This is the slow soulful tearful lament of a woman bemoaning the vicissitudes of love and the absence of her sailor lover long gone to sea. And if that sounds like Youssou N’Dour singing complementary vocals with Aurelio, there’s probably a good reason. The title song ‘Laru Beya’ lightens things up with more of a reggae-like feel, complete with full female chorus line and occasional brass. "In the stillness I sleep. I awake and find that I have dreamt of you. I love you. I love you. I'll be sitting at the beach waiting for you", same scenario but more upbeat feel. I guess it’s a ‘glass half-empty/glass half-full’ thing. The next song ‘Yange’ extends the theme, with the same almost fado-like mournfulness and lamentation, this time over a brother hurt at sea.
‘Wéibayua’ warns of the dangers of politicians and ‘Ineweyu’ warns of the dangers of sleeping around, all in lively percussion with occasional brass and appropriate mocking tone. This is music in its primordial function as a tool for social order and morality and transmission of culture, no small task considering that, like many dispersed tribal peoples of the world, the Garifuna are separated by national boundaries. Other songs deal with AIDS, immigration, and the price of cassava, but as always the most common theme here, as with almost any album any where any time, is the love between two humans, the spark that ignites larger fires.
The real theme of this album finally emerges on the tenth song, ‘Wamada’ (‘Our friend’) a soulful ballad featuring Youssou N’Dour that mourns the loss of Andy Palacio, and wishes him his rightful place amonst the ancestors in the afterlife.
‘Nuwaruguma’ (‘my star’)- extends the theme of loss and solidarity and the idea that such phenomena are merely part of a larger order exemplified by the heavens. Faith is always the last refuge of confusion and wonder. Thus the album comes full circle and a lament becomes a eulogy and a renewal of faith. And thus a native people decimated in the
This music has DNA from all over, just like the Garifuna people who it so proudly represents. Hybrid vigor rules. The new album is called ‘Laru Beya’ by Aurelio. It’s more than reggae. It’s also being released by Next Ambiance, an imprint of Sub Pop. Remember them? But that’s another story. Check it out.