Reviews and Media

Below are some of the many reviews and media coverage in blogs, websites and magazines that have featured Ray and Warasa!

TripAdvisor Reviews

CNN article “7 ways for travelers to Belize to enjoy Garifuna culture”

The Stevenson Family Blog:

That afternoon we pedaled out to Warasa, where the boys had a drum lesson with Garifuna drummer Ronald Raymod MacDonald (he goes by Ray). The boys were a bit intimidated by Ray, but he was such a patient and kind teacher that eventually they warmed up to him and really started getting in to the lesson. It was fun watching them get the feel of the sometimes tricky rhythms that characterize Garifuna drumming.”

Travel to Nature website (translated from the original German):

“If you want to get to know the colorful and fun-loving culture of Garifuna, this is the place for you!
The founder of the local Drum School, Ronald Raymond McDonald (yes, that’s right!), And his mother welcomed us warmly. They asked us directly for a set table under a palapa – a roof covered with palm leaves. The traditional food, which included a soup with coconut milk and fresh fish, was absolutely delicious! Just the right strengthening before the following program. Ronald and his father showed us how to make their drums by hand today. If you liked, you could try it yourself. During the subsequent drum lessons, we learned various rhythms of the Garifuna songs. And who had experience in it, could prove this here. Everyone who felt like having two left hands made sure there was enough entertainment! Of course, we also learned a lot about the history of Garifuna. As a grand finale, we danced traditional Garifuna dances.”

Island Expeditions website:

“The Warasa Drum School in Punta Gorda offers interactive lessons in traditional Garifuna drumming, dancing and drum-making.  It’s a hands on opportunity for travelers to experience Garifuna drumming and explore the unique culture whilst having fun.”

German website “Magizin Forum” (translated from the original German):

“Tam-tam, tam, short, short, long – the first rhythm our teacher is playing for us is easy. Without much effort, we beat, like him, on the taut deer skins of our bass drums. “Is everything okay?”, asks Ray during the round, then he laughs and really starts playing – our hands are to beat on the upper half, then on the lower half of the drum in rapid succession. I count strongly along, while Ray keeps me in time. “Don’t think such a lot, close your eyes, let the rhythm guide you,”.  The instructor, whose full name is Ronald Raymond McDonald, encourages me, wearing a casually knotted headscarf and faded jeans on his athletic body.  Again he sets off, tam-tam, tata-tam-tam. My colleagues at the class and I are not keeping up with our hands. But eventually it works – we drum, we sweat.”

Travel Dudes Blog:

“Ronald Raymond McDonald (no, really – the fast food chain is non existent in Belize, hence the parents’ lack of concern at choosing such a name), Garifuna drummer extraordinaire, taught us how to play a simple punta beat on the Segunda, or bass drum, used to keep the steady beat of the music, whilst he pummeled away at the Primera drum, a smaller, higher pitched instrument, played faster (and with far more skill) over the top. It’s harder than it looks, and as soon as my beat was steady enough to have accompaniment, it was all I could do to not start slapping the drum to the same rapid beat of my tutor.  The class was great fun though, and Ray really is an amazing drummer and very patient teacher.”

From the Chinese Traveler Luxe website – translated from the original Chinese:

“To pass on and promote Garifuna drums, Ronald Raymond McDonald, a former Belize national dance troupe, founded the Warasa Drumming School, the most famous drum school in Toledo, where he teaches drumming, drum making and providing Garifuna cultural experience….The drums, Ronald’s singing and laughter, the beaming faces under the thatch…the happy atmosphere infected everyone. “Garifuna drums feed my soul and are imprinted in my flesh and blood,” Ronald said. “This is a heartfelt voice, “singing from the heart” is the spirit of Garifuna drumming.”

Eco Clubs Blog:

“Drumming is just one of the tangible elements of the Garifuna culture, and the local Warasa Drum school is aptly named – “warasa” meaning “our culture” in the Garifuna language.  Warasa Drum School was founded in 2010 by Ronald Raymond McDonald, and his wife, Ruth. Ruth originally hails from Scotland, and she reminisces that a few weeks after they first met Ray shared his dream with her of opening a Garifuna drumming centre – not only to teach drumming, but also how to make drums, and to share the Garifuna culture with others. With both of them working and saving hard to build their house at the Garifuna reserve they struggled to see how this vision could become a reality but, deciding they had to start somewhere, spent a weekend designing a sign, putting paint to plywood, and erecting the finished product outside their rented house. The sign did its job, piquing interest, and Ray began teaching four local children. He was also engaged by a PG guesthouse to provide weekly drumming lessons for their guests, and interest quickly spread to include performances and lessons at a number of lodges throughout the District. Ray is an engaging character and a very patient and skilled teacher.”

The Blog of our friend Jess who volunteered with us for a week

Lonely Planet entry

Miss Goodwin in Belize blog:

“Today, our first full day in PG, we took a drumming class with a man named Ronald McDonald (no joke!). He and his father are part of the Garifuna culture, and the drum school, Warasa, works to preserve it. It was a great class and we all learned a lot and had fun!”

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Garifuna Performances

Garifuna Performances

Ray performs with his family group in Belize and all over Central America for over 15 years!  His group are one of Belize’s most respected traditional Garifuna groups.  You often see them performing in public during annual cultural celebrations in November and around Christmas time.  Local families hire them to play for birthdays, wakes and other events.  The group also performs at weddings, masses and cultural events from San Pedro, Ambergris Caye to La Ceiba, Honduras.

Garifuna performancesYou can hire a group performance within Punta Gorda for $150Bz per hour.  Or, you can experience a 30 minute performance as part of one of our Half- and Whole Day Packages.

Our guests love sitting back and enjoying the music or joining in for a dance!  You can choose!

 

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Drumming Lessons

Drumming lessons can be booked one-to-one, or as part of a small or large group.  Each participant gets their own drum to play on. Your instructor Ray will make sure that everybody is having fun!

Lessons begin with Ray giving a brief background to Garifuna culture. You’ll then learn how to hold and strike your large bass “Segunda” drum.  He will show you a basic rhythm, then he will play alongside you on the smaller Primero drum.  He will also sing a traditional Garifuna song while you play.  You will learn many rhythms, including Paranda, Punta, Chumba and more.

Price per person:

1-6 people: $15USD/$30Bz per person

7+ people: $12.50USD/$25Bz per person

Drumming lessons

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Garifuna Drums

Garifuna Drums

886745_642546015806365_721270680_oGarifuna drums are made by hollowing out solid trunks of hardwood, and are hence genuine solid wood drums.  The hollow is traditionally started by burning hot coals in the centre of the trunk, but these days, unless some termites have chewed out a hollow for us, it is often started with the help of a chainsaw!

Once a rough hollow is made, a long chisel is used to chisel the log into a cylinder, and is then planed and sanded smooth.  Holes are drilled around the bottom of the cylinder for the ropes to pass through when it is time to add the skin.

Deer skin is the most commonly used skin, and it must be soaked, the hair scraped off, and then rinsed, before being cut to the correct size.  Natural vines (called teetay in Belize) are used to create two rings that fit snugly over the top of the drum cylinder: these rings are what holds the skin in place with the aid of the rope.  When they are cut from the jungle, the vines are very flexible, but they become rigid after a few hours, so the rings must be formed to the correct shape and size soon after they are cut.

The rope is one single length that is threaded through the holes around the bottom of the drum and then through the upper ring which pulls down on the skin.  The rope is tightened by turning hand-carved wooden pins, which causes the skin to be pulled taut.

The skin is still wet when it is first fixed to the drum, but the drum with its skin must then be left in the hot sun in order for it to dry.  Once it is totally dry, the top side of the skin is then sanded smooth while still on the drum.  The rope is then adjusted and the pins tightened again.

Once the skin is tight enough, the snare strings or wire are added.  For the Segunda drum, string is used to make a double snare wire; for Primero, the McDonald family like to use a few strands the wire from inside a bicycle brake wire cable, as it is strong and does not rust.  Wire produces a harder sound than string, and better suits the Primero drum than string.

The cylinder of a Garifuna drum can last decades if looked after and varnished regularly, but the skin must occasionally be replaced. Ray’s father, Mario, has had the same mahogany Segunda and Primero drums for over 40 years!

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Drums of the ancestors

Dugu – Painting by Belizean artist Benjamin Nicholas

Listening to many Garifuna songs, they are very up-tempo.  My Scottish indie-rock loving music tastes assumed that they must therefore be quite cheerful – maybe about catching lots of tasty fish a particular day.  But that’s not how Garifuna music works – there is a particularly up-tempo Garifuna punta song that is all about when Hurricane Hattie almost completely destroyed many towns and cities in Belize:

Wa ba bumalali, Sili, lanarime dan
(You’ve raised your voice, Syl, how terrible the storm).
Wa ba bumalali, nirüa
(You’ve raised your voice, my child.)
Nabugu yali ubüu
(The earth has been brought low)
Wa wama ferudun, wonweguü yebe
(Let us beg forgiveness, we nearly died)

Larugan aningira hüruha ubüu
(At dawn the earth lay in sadness)
Laramaüahandügü wagüa, giüngiuüahündügü wagüa
(We could only stand around, just sucking our teeth).
Higüu waban? Barüla Hati
(Where is our house? Hattie has taken it)

Garifuna people believe in ancestral spirits, and that their ancestors continue to talk to them and guide them after death.  For this reason, death is not considered such a sad time, and the wake of a well-known Garifuna person in PG is one of the biggest parties to be found in any given year, with all night drumming, dancing and singing (plus a little gambling to round things off).

The most important cultural ceremony that the Garifuna conduct is the Dugu, a large ceremony that takes place in the local Garifuna temple that can last over a week – I was honoured enough to attend 24 hours at one of Ray’s family’s dugu.  A Dugu is held whenever there is some kind of trouble in the family, and the ancestors ask for a Dugu through the Buyei – the spiritual leader of the Garifuna temple., in order to heal the illness or seal the family rift that has occurred.  The entire extended family is expected to attend, no matter what country they live in.  The drumming during Dugu is especially important, with the sacred Dugu rhythm being played on large segunda drums only, which have been blessed and should never leave the temple.  Daily offerings of food are prepared, with each ancestor’s favourite food being specially prepared.  Once the appropriate drumming, singing and blessings have taken place, and the ancestors have had their fill, the living family can eat, with any left over food being ceremonially buried.  Drumming, singing and dancing goes on through the night, with the drummers only sleeping for one or two hours here and there.  Incense such as copal (termite nests!) burns throughout the Dugu.  At certain stages some family members may be possessed by the spirit of an ancestor and either start dancing in the same style as the ancestor, or may pass on some oral advice or message.

Ray told me that when he went to a family Dugu after our trip to Scotland, his grandfather told him (through the Buyei) that he had followed us, and described in detail some of the places we had visited.  Sometimes evil spirits make an appearance during a Dugu, and they most be exorcised by even more spiritual drumming, dancing, singing and blessings.  While I may be a sceptic when it comes to anything supernatural, I totally respect Ray’s spiritual beliefs, and have certainly witnessed for myself the healing effect it has on a family during troubling times.

http://www.warasadrumschool.com

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The Drum Whisperer

Ray is famous in PG for his drumming. He may never have one the annual “Battle of the Drums” competition in PG (clearly the judges aren’t in their correct minds), but anyone that loves drumming will hire Ray and his family to drum for any event above any other local group. As Ludwig Palacio, local poet, artist and veterinarian once said to me: “some people knock drum like they’re at war with it, like they’re trying to knock it into submission… but Ronald – he caresses that drum and produces something magical” Of course I am totally biased, but I do happen to think Ray is the best drummer in Belize, possibly the world. One day, I asked Ray how he learned to play the Primero. I knew that he taught himself from age 5, but obviously he must have been watching someone. Sadly his inadvertent teacher (called Simon) is no longer alive he said, but he must have been good. Ray says his teachers at school would always scold him at school for drumming on his desk…it’s such a shame they couldn’t have channelled his talent instead of telling him off about it.

 

http://www.warasadrumschool.com

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