[Este artículo se publicó en la revista online de la disquera Circle Into Square, de Portland, Oregon]
Garifuna.- Also known as Garinago. They are considered the only black nation in the Americas who were never slaves. This is explained because the Garifuna, as their oral tradition has it, descend from Arawak and Carib people (two of the nations that lived in the Caribbean before the arrival of the Europeans in the 16th century), who got mixed with West African people who survived the foundering of the ship that brought them to this continent to be slaves. Garifunas currently live mostly in the Caribbean coasts of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Buyei.- A spiritual mentor for the Garifuna. The Buyei serves as a link between the living and their deceased ancestors, and he often communicates the advice or messages that ancestors send to their relatives. The advice can cover practically any aspect of life, from regular life decisions to the best way to treat an illness.
Celebrity.- A person who has acquired special notoriety.
Tradition.- The set of practices, beliefs, and customs, that make up the identity of a nation. Local traditions in our day and age are thought to be at risk due to the relentless erosion of globalization and their tendency to homogenize societies.
Andy Palacio was preparing a new album. Palacio had in recent years earned a name as Belize’s most renowned Punta Rock artist, but he wasn’t satisfied. Punta Rock is an upbeat genre, only intended at making people dance at parties, and Palacio felt that there is much more that the Garifuna could contribute to music. He was in good company for that. His producer, Ivan Duran, founded Stonetree Records and was the first Belizean producer to be more focused in researching the culture of his country than in making a quick buck with the easy-to-sell dance rhythms.
While going through the roster of songs that were ready to be recorded, Palacio showed the producer a song that he wanted to include, even though it wasn’t written by him. The song had a slower pace than most of his songs. Although it had a natural flowing rhythm, it wasn’t really a dance song. The strength of the song seemed to lie more in the beautiful melody of the voice.
- Who wrote this? Ivan Duran asks.
- My uncle Paul, who lives in Punta Gorda.
- I want to meet him.
They went looking for him, but before we get into that, let’s close the scene saying that the song was actually recorded. The album –Keimoun– was a success, the first Belizean record to receive international acclaim, and started a new trend in Garifuna music. But most importantly, it planted the seed of an album that would have lasting and profound effects on Garifuna culture.
The man who wrote the song was called Paul Nabor, and he had lived a unique life. Later, after the explosion of the album, when it became necessary to get him a passport to tour the many countries that were waiting for him, they would discover that there were no official records of his birth. Paul Nabor was evidently old, but nobody knew exactly how old. He had lived between Belize, Guatemala and Honduras for his entire life, at times spending the night –and this is no metaphor- wherever the current would have the night catch him. He was a fisherman. He had been a boxer. When Ivan Duran and Andy Palacio went looking for him, he was a buyei, the spiritual counselor of his town of Punta Gorda.
At Ivan’s request, he showed them more songs he had written. He told them about this music, which was called Paranda. He told them he was among the last handful of people who played it.
The next few years founded them researching in Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, looking for the musicians, getting them together, recording the music. The resulting album Paranda: Africa in Central America, catapulted Nabor and the Paranderos to global recognition, touring Europe, the United States and Mexico. But, again, most importantly, that album took the genre, at the very moment when it was about to become extinct, and saved it from disappearing. Now, 12 years after its release, it has become evident that there is a new generation of musicians that look up to the example of Paul Nabor and Andy Palacio, and who don’t have to look further than home to find a path that is both meaningful and promising. New Garifuna musicians know that they don’t have to be a star like Kanye West, they can be a star like Paul Nabor.