Garifuna Music

 Garifuna music

Music is an integral part of Garifuna culture.  Garifuna music is very distinct from the other styles of music found in Central and Latin America.  The Garinagu integrate song and music into all aspects of their life.  Therefore many songs are about activities like fishing or cooking or giving advice to a loved one.

Traditional Garifuna music is based on a small number of basic rhythms.  These are Paranda, Punta, Chumba, Hungu-Hungu, Wanaragua (also known as Jonkanu), Gunjei, and Dugu.  Dugu is a sacred rhythm that is only played in the Temple.   Shakas (maracas), turtle shells, conch shell (for a horn), guitar (in Paranda) and other percussion are also commonly used.

Garifuna Musicians

Well-known traditional Garifuna musicians include Paul Nabor and Aurelio Martinez (Paranda), Andy Palacio and Adrian “Doc” Martinez.

Punta Rock is the contemporary version of the traditional Punta.  In contrast to the original music, Punta Rock bands include an electric bass guitar, a synthesized keyboard, and a drum machine.  Well-known Punta Rock musicians include Supa G, Aziatic and Lova Boy.

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Black man lay the pipe: Belize race relations

“Spanish man build the house, Chiney man cook the food, White man pay the bills, Black man lay de pipe!”

Immortal words from a song of Belizean punta rock super star, Supa G.

“Hey, Blondie!”

I keep walking, aware of my long dark brunette hair.

“Hey, White gyal!”

Ah.  They’re talking to me.   Welcome to Belize race relations, where your ethnicity and skin colour is not something people whisper about behind a veil of political correctness.

Belize has about 310,000 people, in a land area roughly the size of Wales.  But it is a melting pot like any large British city.  The main ethnic groups in Belize are: Creole, Mestizo, Maya (Mopan, Kekchi and Yucatec), Garifuna, East Indian (‘Coolie’ or ‘Hindu’), Mennonite, Chinese (‘Chiney/Chino/China’), Middle Eastern (‘Lebanese’), other Central American (‘Spanish’), Nigerian, and various Caucasians (‘white gal/bwai/man/’oman’).

It takes a while to get used to being identified solely by your skin colour, but you can’t legitimately get offended once you realise that it’s not much different from shouting “hey you in the red shirt and blue shorts!”: it’s mostly just one of many defining physical characteristics, and everyone does it to everyone else.

But as Supa G’s song outlines, stereotypes do abound. When people yell “white gal”, there is often a silent “rich” in there.  My shabby clothes are all just a cunning disguise.  Mennonites smell bad; Garifuna people are lazy; the Chinese are stealing all the business opportunities, the Spanish are stealing all the jobs and so on.  The usual vastly generalized assumptions that are the foundations of many cultures.

It is mostly superficial, and I have never personally witnessed any vicious verbal or physical racism, but while it may all seem hunky dory, you could easily argue that you just have to look at where the power lies in the country and at the poverty and crime statistics to see that not all is fair and equal between the various ethnic groups.  Belize, a country where approximately half of the population is black (historically closer to three quarters) elected its first black prime minister only three years ago.  Poverty rates are consistently higher in Maya and Garifuna households.  Crime rates are out of control in the Creole southside of Belize City.  Child labour is most likely in Spanish immigrant families.  And so on.

But as a whole, I would say many so called “developed” countries have a lot to learn from Belize in terms of race relations.  My own brother was beaten up in Scotland when he was a child for having an English accent.  I really wish I hadn’t heard people at home using phrases like “Paki scum” and the like, but I have, sometimes from people I had considered friends.  I honestly can’t imagine anything like that happening in Belize, or at least certainly not in Punta Gorda, and I truly hope that Ray is never on the receiving end of anything like that in the UK or elsewhere.

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Mundian to Bach Ke (Ronald McDonald vs. Punjabi MC)

The face off

I have a terrible singing voice. I love to sing, but only in private when (I think) nobody is listening. Ray has a good overall singing voice and a great Garifuna singing voice: Garifuna songs don’t require you to be in perfect tune or for you to sing like a bird, but they do require character and confidence, both of which Ray has when he sings. He sings all the time, and regularly puts a smile on my face by randomly running up to me and singing in my ear.

Sometimes, he tries to get me to sing along to a well-known Garifuna song. For whatever reason, even though we’ve been married almost one year and together almost 4, I get stupidly shy at such requests and refuse: I hate being put on the spot. My usual excuse is I can’t because it’s in Garifuna and I don’t know the words. Ray always tells me that doesn’t matter I just need to listen.

Once, when I was with him at his mum’s house, he was saying this to me again when his 12-year old niece Kathlyn was there. Kathlyn only started living with Ray’s family recently, as previously she was living with her Creole mother in Belize City, so she has only been learning about her Garifuna side the past 2 years. Kathlyn is a lovely girl, and agreed with me that it was hard to sing a song when you didn’t understand the language. (All credit to her though, she was at least willing to try!)

Ray however again claimed he had no such difficulties or inhibitions. So, I searched through my phone for a song I could test him with, and found the song Mundian to Bach Ke by Punjabi MC. I played it full volume through Ray’s amp and speakers, and challenged Ray to sing along. It has to be said that the performance of Mundian to Bach Ke – possibly the first time a Garifuna musician has sung in Punjabi – was hilariously funny but also quite impressive, and I thus completely failed to prove my point.

 

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