Saturday, December 20, 2008

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Ibimeni: Garifuna Traditional Music from Guatemala (Sub Rosa)

An awakened interest in the unique music of a small Central American community has led to this fascinating re-release of traditional Garifuna music from the Gulf of Honduras. The late lamented Andy Palacio and producer Ivan Duran are the men to thank for bringing a sensitively rendered modernity to the music of a people who are spread over Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize as a result of their ancestors’ deportation over a century ago from St Vincent in the Caribbean, from which they’d arrived via a 17th Century slave ship which crashed off the coast of the island. The Duran-produced releases Watina and Umalali (on the Cumbancha label) were based on the Garifuna songs of Palacio’s home country of Belize, and the roots of that music are laid bare here in the traditional songs of neighbouring Guatemala. The whole range of Garifuna music is here - to the now familiar raw, appealingly off-centre female call-and-response vocals and loping reggae-lite rhythms, are added rocking horn-led “bandas” songs, deeply expressive liturgical mantras (there’s a strong thread of Catholicism amongst the Garifuna people) and oodles and oodles of polyrhythmic dance music, the West Africa-meets-Caribbean-mento punta style being the most common. There isn’t as much acoustic guitar on Ibimeni as there is on Watina (although when it arrives, it’s usually twanging good fun) but apart from that, you can draw a direct line between this and those acclaimed albums. It’s tuneful, rhythmic, life-affirming stuff and redolent of the unique Afro-Amerindian culture in which it is steeped. If you’re sufficiently intrigued by the Cumbancha albums to want to seek out their rawer antecedents, here it is in all its raw, rootsy glory, a recording to make the late great Andy Palacio proud to have opened the door to its re-release.

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