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Andy Palacio

Belizean singer-guitarist lifts spirits through African and indigenous music

By Kevin Spurgaitis

By Andy Palacio (Belize)
Stonetree Records

It’s said that Andy Palacio was one of those rare musicians with one foot in cultural diplomacy and another on the performance stage. When the Belizean singer-guitarist embarked on a musical career in the 1990s, he scored a series of hits with the up-tempo dance floor formula known as punta rock. Eager to dig further into his roots, he went on to explore more traditional forms of Garifuna music, which combines African and indigenous elements, and includes a variety of a cappella songs and circle dances.

Palacio died of a massive stroke in January. He was 47. But before his death, he was able to convince UNESCO, the United Nation’s educational, scientific and cultural branch, to preserve the Garifuna language, music and dance. He later became a UNESCO Artist for Peace and an official in Belize’s Ministry of Culture.

“Music being the thing that I love most, I decided to use it as a medium for cultural preservation,” Palacio said in 2007. “I remember an elderly Garifuna statesman here in Belize saying we cannot stop Garifuna culture from dying and that all we can do is delay its death. I hope that’s not true.”

His last album, Wátina, was recorded with his group, the Garifuna Collective, a loose community of musicians from Belize’s leading record label, Stonetree Records. It blends African and Caribbean chants and rough-hewn ballads, while exploring themes of loss, religious faith, land rights and cultural unity.

Songs speak to the need for the Garifuna to cherish and celebrate their heritage. Weyu Lárigi Weyu (“Day by Day”) uses a rhythm extracted from ritual music called dügü, played in traditional healing ceremonies all over Central America. As Palacio put it, “the song is a prayer asking God’s blessings for our people and asking for guidance, strength and healing in an afflicted world.”

Muscular and melodic, Palacio’s music celebrates the high energy of Caribbean, Spanish and Creole rhythms. And sung in Garifuna, his songs will surely lift your spirits — and keep you shaking till dawn.

Recommended listening:

Til Da Mawnin (1997)
Keimoun (1995)

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