It is four years now since Watina, the deservedly lauded effort to focus our attention on the history and seductive music of the Garifuna people of Central America. The international career of that album’s star, Andy Palacio, was tragically cut short (he died within a year of its release) and so it’s to one of Palacio’s collaborators on Watina that producer Ivan Duran turns to carry the mantle of continuing to develop and expose this rich, absorbing sound.
The template for Laru Beya is similar to that on Watina, with the insinuating scuffle of traditional percussion set against guitars that provoke and prompt an array of finely variegated rhythms, with Aurelio’s relaxed soulful vocals spiced by brass interjections, piano (masterfully mixed, it’s often there only if your ears seek it out) and the sweet harmonic sound of the women of another Duran-produced Garifuna album, the gorgeous Umalali.
In addition, Martinez explores the link between his culture and that of his west Afican ancestry, aided by mentor Youssou Ndour and the mighty Orchestra Baobab. The Senegalese collaborations are suitably light touch – the sharp tap of sabar drum to add a hint of mbalax, subtle shades of brassy Afro-Latinisms to supplement the languid lilt of the Garifuna style, and Youssou adding his soaring vocals like a call across the ocean.
There’s a Sene-rap cameo, too, from Sen Kumpe, which hints at a toughness beneath this celebratory music. Laru Beya translates as ‘By the Beach’, a reflection not only of the defiantly sunny disposition of these musicians, but also a nod to the shipwrecked slave antecedents of the Garifuna people.
It’s testament to the collective ability of these artists and to Palacio’s ability to give space and light to the multi-textured, intricate arrangements (gone are the intrusive electric guitar interruptions that were the one blight on Watina) that such a broad and expressive musical palette painted without tiring the listener. The high standard is maintained; Laru Beya deserves to take its place alongside Andy Palacio’s iconic album.