One of the most extraordinary and passionate Central American artists of his generation, Aurelio Martinez is a major tradition-bearer of the threatened Garifuna culture that fuses African and Caribbean-Indian roots. Hailing from a small community in Honduras, he is recognised for his preservation and modernization of this musical tradition with his distinctive, powerfully evocative vocals and his talent as a composer, guitarist and percussionist. Thanks to a mentorship with Youssou N'Dour, as part of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, Martinez found himself in Senegal, learning from the singer, rethinking his arrangements and exploring the musical links between the Garifuna sound and West Africa. Youssou N'Dour and Orchestra Baobab guest on the new album, which is produced by Ivan Duran of Stonetree Records (Andy Palacio, Umalali and the man behind the international rise of Central American Garifuna music). Laru Beya is a lush journey marked with thoughtful reflections on the Garifuna past, the sometimes difficult present, and the promising glimmers of the future for artists like Martinez.
The Garifuna communities that line the Caribbean coast of Central America have their origin in a fortuitous shipwreck of 1675, which allowed enslaved Africans from what is now southeast Nigeria to escape to the island now known as Saint Vincent; there, they were initially forced to battle the resident Carib Amerindians, but later intermarried with Caribs and Arawaks, subsequently working together to repel both French and British colonisers. Then, once the British took full control of the island, in 1795, the Garifuna, known as ‘Black Caribs’, were forcibly deported to the island of Roatán, from which they migrated to Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
During the mid-1990s, the late Andy Palacio brought Garifuna music to widespread acclaim through a hybrid style known as ‘punta rock’. And although Aurelio Martinez contributed to Palacio’s landmark album Watina, his own Laru Beya feels very atypical, being a quietly absorbing album that incorporates unusual rhythms from the traditional Garifuna repertoire, given greater depth and complexity via the presence of Senegalese musicians on several tracks.
Following Palacio’s sudden death in 2008, Aurelio decamped to a small Honduran fishing village to begin recording the basic tracks of Laru Beya, which appropriately means ‘By the Beach’. After further recording sessions were undertaken in Belize with producer Ivan Duran, Aurelio travelled to Dakar, Senegal, for a series of collaborative sessions, after being selected for Youssou N’Dour’s Protégé Arts Initiative. The Senegalese sojourn brought all kinds of new textures: in addition to the presence of Orchestra Baobab members on the mournful Bisien Nu and the title-track, upcoming local rappers contribute to Wéibayuwa (Sharks), which criticises political excess, and Ineweyu, a traditional refutation of infidelity. N’Dour also contributes to the opening number, Lubara Wanwa (Waiting for the Arrival of a Son), which evidences a strong reggae influence, and the moving Wamada (Our Mutual Friend), the latter being a rousing tribute to the departed Palacio, which draws on the rhythm of a sacred Garifuna funeral rite.
In lesser hands, such ‘fusion’ elements could have fallen flat, but Aurelio’s obvious talent, and Duran’s sterling musical arrangements, instead yield an impressive album that simply sounds better which each new listening.
Find more music at the BBC This link will take you off Amazon in a new window