Listening Post 96. Aurelio Martínez, the greatest living Garifuna singer-songwriter, has a powerful, velvety voice and infectious energy, but there is more fueling his inner flame than passion for music: He is trying to preserve his culture and language. The Garifuna people emerged when shipwrecked African slaves found refuge on St. Vincent Island in the Caribbean and mixed with indigenous Arawak Indians. The British deported their descendants to Central America; the Garifuna today live in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua, but their minority language—which UNESCO has declared a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”—is threatened by assimilation and emigration. On Darandi (Thirty), Aurelio offers sparkling new recordings of emblematic songs from a three-decade career rooted in paranda—a brisk-bluesy guitar-and-maracas-based tradition, modernized with drums and electric touches. He tells personal and folk tales, often evoking social issues, and pays homage to artists who influenced him. In Yalifu (Pelican), he remembers the feeling of childhood loss after his father left for New York: “Pelican, give me your wings so I can fly there,” he sings (video 1). Nari Golu (Gold Tooth) focuses on a woman who asks her husband for gold teeth to make her more beautiful—when she really wants to impress her secret lover (video 2). The country-tinged Funa Tugudirugu (Red Feet) encourages unwed fathers to take responsibility for their children (video 3). Sielpa—honoring a pioneering band of the same name—is about a man who consulted doctors far and wide in a frustrated effort to diagnose an illness (video 4). Dugu addresses ancestor veneration—and perhaps the artist’s driving energy. “When I step on stage,” he told a Spanish interviewer, “I am no longer Aurelio Martínez, but the spirit of my grandfather.” (Stone Tree Records/Real World Productions)
For more on Aurelio’s music, use the Archive tab at right to see the review of his 2014 album Lándini (Listening Post 18, October 2015), which includes videos from two additional songs that also appear on Darandi.