Andy Palacio was not only the most popular musician in Belize, he was also a serious music and cultural activist with a deep commitment to preserving his unique Garifuna culture. Long a leading proponent of Garifuna popular music and a tireless advocate for the maintenance of the Garifuna language and traditions, Palacio recently achieved international acclaim for his work as a recording and performing artist thanks to the critical success of his early 2007 album Wåtina.
Andy Vivien Palacio was born in the small coastal village of Barranco, Belize on December 2, 1960. Palacio grew up listening to traditional Garifuna music as well as imported sounds coming over the radio from neighboring Honduras, Guatemala, the Caribbean and the United States. “Music was always a part of daily life,” said Palacio, “It was the soundtrack that we lived to.” Along with some of his peers, he joined local bands even while in high school and began developing his own voice, performing covers of popular Caribbean and Top 40 songs.
However, it was while working with a literacy project on Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast in 1980 and discovering that the Garifuna language and culture was steadily dying in that country, that a strong cultural awareness took hold and his approach to music became more defined. “I saw what had happened to my people in Nicaragua. The cultural erosion I saw there deeply affected my outlook,” he said in late 2006, “and I definitely had to react to that reality.” His reaction took the form of diving deeper into the language and rhythms of the Garifuna, a unique cultural blend of West African and Indigenous Carib and Arawak Indian language and heritage. “It was a conscious strategy. I felt that music was an excellent medium to preserve the culture. I saw it as a way of maintaining cultural pride and self esteem, especially in young people.”
Palacio became a leading figure in a growing renaissance of young Garifuna intellectuals who were writing poetry and songs in their native language. He saw the emergence of an upbeat, popular dance form based on Garifuna rhythms that became known as punta rock and enthusiastically took part in developing the form. Andy began performing his own songs and gained stature as a musician and energetic Garifuna artist. In 1987, he was able to hone his skills after being invited to work in England with Cultural Partnerships Limited, a community arts organization. Returning home to Belize with new skills and a four track recording system, he helped found Sunrise, an organization dedicated to preserving, documenting and distributing Belizean music. While his academic background and self-scholarship allowed for his on-going documentation of Garifuna culture through lyrics and music, it is his exuberance as a performer that has helped earn him worldwide recognition.
Palacio also brought his passion for Garifuna culture into the public sector. In December 2004, Palacio was appointed Cultural Ambassador and Deputy Administrator of the National Institute of Culture and History of Belize.
About five years ago, Belizean producer Ivan Duran, Palacio’s longtime collaborator and founder of the local label Stonetree Records, convinced Palacio that he should focus on less commercial forms of Garifuna music and look more deeply into its soul and roots. Duran and Palacio set out to create an all-star, multi-generational ensemble of some of the best Garifuna musicians from Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. The Garifuna Collective unites elder statesmen such as legendary Garifuna composer Paul Nabor, with up-and-coming voices of the new generation such as Aurelio Martinez from Honduras and Adrien Martinezfrom Belize. Rather then focusing solely on danceable styles like punta rock, the Collective explores the more soulful side of Garifuna music, such as the Latin-influenced paranda, and the sacred dügü, punta and gunjei rhythms.
Palacio and Duran embarked on the production of Wátina, an album that would come to redefine modern Garifuna music and become one of the most critically-acclaimed world music releases of 2007. The initial recording sessions for this exceptional album took place over a 4-month period in an improvised studio inside a thatch-roofed cabin by the sea in the small village of Hopkins, Belize. It was an informal environment, where the musicians spent many hours playing together late into the night, honing the arrangements of the songs that would eventually end up on this album. While the traditions provided the inspiration, the musicians also added contemporary elements that helped give the songs relevance to their modern context. After the sessions, Ivan Duran worked tirelessly back at his studio to craft what is surely the pinnacle of Garifuna music production to date.
Wátina, which was released at the beginning of 2007, became one of the most critically acclaimed recordings of the year in any genre. Perhaps the most unanimously revered world music album in recent memory, Wátina appeared on dozens of Best of the Year lists in major media outlets around the globe and was roundly praised in glowing terms. These best-of lists put an exclamation point on what had been an incredible year for Andy Palacio and the worldwide recognition of Garifuna music. In November, 2007, Palacio became the first Caribbean and Central American artist to be designated a UNESCO Artist for Peace. He received the prestigious WOMEX Award in October, 2007 which was co-awarded to Ivan Duran. In September, 2007 Palacio was conferred the Order of Meritorious Service by the Prime Minister of Belize. Wátina was also nominated for the influential BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards. At home in Belize, the international success of Wátina has sparked a revival of Garifuna music, as young musicians have become inspired by Palacio’s example.
Source: Stonetree Records
35 Elizabeth Street
Benque Viejo del Carmen
Belize, Central America