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World Music CD Reviews, February 2007

Album of the Month

Andy Palacio & the Garifuna Collective: Wátina

buy CD | Listen To Watina | Andy Palacio & The Garifuna Collective

It is isn't necessary to be entranced by the story of the Garifuna people to enjoy the music of Andy Palacio. The rhythms and melodies give hints of Afropop, yet the swing and the maraca infuse a distinctly Latin-Caribbean flavor.

Yet the music is clearly unique. Raw and rattly drum beats are paired with guitar and vocal harmonies on the title track, which tells of a person stranded on a road as drivers zip by, unsympathetic. Such everyday occurances are a common theme in Garifuna music. Other songs include the bluesy prayer "Weyu Larigi Weyu" with it's call-and-response refrain; the upbeat reggae-meets-Garifuna call for unity "Lidan Aban;" and the Paranda-style guitar piece "Sin Precio" with its somber message of feeling worthless.

Born and raised in the Atlantic coast village of Barranco, Belize, Palacio heard a mix of traditional and imported music, and played both in his early musical career. His music took a turn while he was working with a literacy project in Nicaragua in 1990 and he realized how the Garifuna language was dying out.

"I saw what happened to my people. The cultural erosion I saw deeply affected my outlook," Palacio says, "and I definitely reacted to that reality." His response was to become a musical ambassador for things Garifuna, helping other musicians get recognized, and recently cutting this album of songs based on traditional Garifuna rhythms.

The story of The Garifuna people is the stuff of legend, ripe for big-screen exposure. Essentially, they emerged from a transportation accident. Two European slave ships sunk off the coast of St. Vincent in 1635. The surviving slaves mixed with the local population, and spread to the Central American mainland. [more history]. They have expanded from fewer than 2,000 people in 1800 to more than 200,000 today, and the work of artists such as Palacio (who tours in fall 2007) and Aurelio Martinez (who tours in spring 2007) are bringing the culture wider global recognition it richly deserves. This is a must-have album for curious ears.

©2007 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

THIS JUST IN! ... New World Music CD Releases


Various Artists: Merdeka (Dancing Turtle)
buy CD/hear samples

I really wanted to love this album. Really. Among the 20 tracks are a couple from artists I really enjoy: Norwegian yoikers Vajas and Gypsytronica troupe Shukar Collective. Digging into the album, however, I found the musical selections from 17 nations to be disjointed. Irish singer Laura Baker's "In Our Hearts" has a great message, but its smoothness jars after the wonderful island-guitar vibe of Modeste Hughes Randriamahitasoa's Malagasy "Celestina." I won't give you a track-by-track accounting; suffice to say that other juxtapositions cause a similar disorientation. And there's no justifying text in the packaging explaining why the tracks/artists were selected, or any translations of the lyrics.

That said, I don't want to discourage you from checking out this compilation. It does contain good music -- not least Zambian Dominic Kakolobango's "Ubukwa" and Ohayo-Samba's "Brazil Yori." And the whole thing is for a great cause: the independence movement in West Papua. The indigenous people of West Papua -- also known as the Indoensian province of Irian Jaya -- lies in the western part of the island of New Guinea, and like the people of the eastern nation of Papua New Guinea have been struggling against Indonesian occupation, which has resulted (the notes say) in "one of the world's worst cases of ethnic cleansing" with more than 400,000 West Papuans killed since 1963. All proceeds from CD sales go directly to refugee support programs.

So yeah, it's a great cause. And in the face of the social/political /military situation I feel petty for nit-picking about the tracklist. I just wish the flow of the album was a little more natural. I would even have suggested two discs: one of music from West Papua, one of musicians from elsewhere who support the cause. You can find out more and hear song samples at the Dancing Turtle Records website.

©2007 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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