“This music is from Belize? I was just there, I never saw that!” a woman exclaimed as I walked past her at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival last Saturday. She was pointing at a set of turtle shells. Hooked by a long strap, they hung from the neck of the Belizean drummer she seemed to have just met after the show. Behind them, a junkanu dancer was removing his pink and white mask, his body covered in a now-damp long-sleeve white shirt and pants, his knees still padded with cowry shells. I understood the delight in her voice: a few years ago, I had the good fortune of discovering Belize’s entrancing Garífuna music while venturing to southern Belize.
A day later, on a Sunday evening, walking down a basement stairway and past a glass door, I stumbled into a funky red-lit lounge, buried underneath a Subway sandwich shop. If I hadn’t read patron reviews of this venue, I would have spent another hour looking for it.
Leaning back on an orange, wall-lining futon, I noticed a tall man in dark jeans, a black tee, beret and scarf. I knew no one else in DC would lounge in a subterranean club at five o’clock, save for bar staff and musicians. As soon as I approached, he smiled and stretched out his hand, while I introduced myself.
“Hi, I’m Sam.”
“Are you part of the Collective?”
“Yes, yes I am.”
I tell him how excited I am to meet them. For all my Garífuna experiences in Belize, one was missing: meeting The Garifuna Collective — a unique collaborative, multigenerational group of Garífuna artists. Six years ago, their first album “Watina” won worldwide acclaim. So much so that in 2009, Amazon named it first on its Top 100 list of Best World Music Albums of all time, even ahead of other top artists such as Youssou N’Dour, Fela Kuti and Tito Puente, among others. Unfortunately, the band’s beloved leader, Andy Palacio, passed unexpectedly after Watina was released, at just 47 years of age. I knew that meeting his band mates would be as close as I could get to learning about his cultural mission.
“So, what part of the south are you from, Sam?”
“Oh no! I’m from out west. These guys are from the south,” he says, pointing to the back where the remaining members were >> Continue reading