The Garifuna Collective: Aban

June 16, 2020

One for the Record Book

Listening Post 257. Measured by awards, chart listings and critical acclaim, Garifuna artists have a high profile on the world music scene, even though their community numbers less than one percent of the population in the Central American countries—Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua—they call home. At the center of this small Afro-Indigenous civilization is the Belize-based Garifuna Collective, a multigenerational ensemble that brings their history and culture to life in song. Aban (One), the group’s fifth album, reflects the solidarity and self-reliance of a tight-knit people familiar with upheaval. The Garifuna emerged on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent after survivors of a shipwrecked slave vessel mixed with the local Arawak and Carib inhabitants. They resisted colonial conquest for more than a century but in 1797 the British exiled them to the Honduran coast. Another 200 years on, their society and language face new threats from assimilation and emigration, and music has become a key to preservation. Aban draws on traditional Garifuna rhythms and percussion—wooden drums, maracas, turtle shells—and also influences from reggae, reggaeton, highlife and electronic sound. The album captures iconic moments of human interaction and struggle, highlighting the role of women as guardians, and often protagonists, of oral heritage—as in the hypnotic groove of Wiya Waist, showing a confident woman fending off unwanted advances (video 1). Community support underscores the breezy Hamala (Let Him Fly), in which making a kite is a metaphor for letting children discover the freedom for which their ancestors fought (video 2). One woman responds to gossip about herself in Uraga (Story, video 3), while in Lügua (Lost, video 4) another cries out to the sea when her husband’s empty boat drifts back to shore. In a world sure to bring sorrow to one and all, the Garifuna Collective channels the turbulence, directing it toward unity, survival and joy. (Stonetree Records)

The Garifuna Collective: Aban
Marcela Aranda: Vocals
Desiree Diego: Vocals, maracas
Mohobub Flores: Vocals, turtle shells
Sheldon Petillo: Vocals
Emilio Thomas: Vocals
Rolando “Chichiman” Sosa: Vocals, percussion
Denmark Flores: Garifuna drums
Sam Harris: Electric guitar, vocals
Guayo Cedeño: Electric guitar
Eli Levinson: Sampling, programming
Ivan Duran: Electric and acoustic guitars, bass, producer
Al Ovando: Electric guitar, bass, percussion, claps


Wiya Waist
(Horace Flores, Marcela Aranda, Al Ovando, Ivan Duran, Eli Levinson, Sean Lewis Love-Lace)

A song about a woman responding forcefully to the advances and catcalling of men.

(From the Garifuna lyrics)
“Where are you going again? The party is right here”
Woman: “I’m going somewhere else, I’m not going with you”

Man: “What a pretty wiya waist”
Woman: “Don’t watch me, look at yourself before you talk to me!”


Hamala / Let Him Fly
(Emilio Thomas, Al Ovando, Ivan Duran)

Hamala, a song that came in a dream, sings to Garifuna youth to embrace the freedom their ancestors fought so hard to keep. It tells the story about a little boy who wants to fly. He wants to go out in the world, experience it and learn from it. But to accomplish this he needs his community to embrace him, prepare him for what lies ahead. He knows that the rich culture of his people has the elements he needs to grow his wings and fly.


Uraga / Story
(Marcela Aranda, Henry Flores, Eli Levinson, Sheldon Petillo, Ivan Duran, Al Ovando)

The oral history of Garifuna culture is kept with songs. The songs most often recount a specific event that marked the songwriter. Sometimes however, there is more than one side to the story! In Uraga, a woman responds to a story that was told about her. Early in the morning as a party is dying down, she tells people she wants to set the record straight. She is worried that her story will end, incomplete. The song ending explicitly highlights the tension felt within the oral culture when stories go untold, as the group vocal sings, “This is where the story will end” while the lead vocal answers, “Is this really the end?”


Lügua / Lost
(Marcela Aranda, Al Ovando, Eli Levinson, Ivan Duran)

This song captures a painful moment: A woman calling out for her husband, lost at sea. A boat has come back to shore, empty. Distraught, she appeals directly to the boat, singing over and over, “Such a beautiful boat named Jackie, how I love it, bring back my husband to me.” She offers the boat money, anything it needs to go back to sea and come back with her husband.



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