Music Review: The Garifuna Collective – Ayo

The Garifuna Collective Ayo

Genre: Ethnic / Garifuna music / World / Paranda / Puntarock

Region: Belize

Artists’ Website: The Garifuna Collective official

Label: Stonetree Records / Cumbancha

Release Date: July 2, 2013

Garifuna music is a gem in the world’s diverse, colourful quilt of ethnic music styles. Instruments and voices meet an extraordinarily delicate balance making Ayo a charming, exotic yet palatable listen.

The songs are driven by a particular Garifuna sense of melody delivered by gentle guitars and heartfelt singing. What is remarkable is that although those melodies give meaning to the world of a particular ethnic group, at the same time they are universal because they are so beautiful, almost familiar to anyone. You can pick up any of the album’s 12 tracks and it will be a perfect example (e.g. “Galuma”).  Ayo is the achievement of the Garifuna Collective – they have crafted timeless songs with a keen pop sensibility without straying from their cultural roots or watering down their sound with mainstream leanings. However, the originality and accessibility of their sound has already introduced them to the world’s audiences.

With Ayo  the Garifuna express their grievance for the loss of Andy Palacio who passed away shortly after their debut was released back in 2007 (Wátina). Wátina was an unprecedented success resulting in a WOMEX award and Palacio being honoured as a UNESCO Artist for Peace contributing to a larger recognition of Garifuna culture (in 2001 UNESCO had already declared Garifuna language, dance and music as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity”). Ayo is not a mere homage to the national hero of Belize but also a fresh (re-)start; the ensemble is committed to build on his legacy and spread their music to the younger generations and the world. Being a headless body of musicians grants them the freedom to act like a true collective, inviting old and new musicians in their communities to join the rehearsals. Giving everybody the chance to become a cultural ambassador is genuine social learning and empowerment.

The rhythmic backbone of the album consists of relentless paranda rhythms which have always accompanied Garifuna communities reverberating their African roots. Maracas, turtle shells, claves and hand drums generate wavy delicate polyrhythmic substrates on which gentle guitar strumming and multi-shaded vocal lines (3 lead vocalists) are weaving soul-transcending melodies.

Different styles of Garifuna music like punta and puntarock are entangled into a coherent whole. The production by Ivan Duran, who produced also Wátina has captured a very warm, rich and organic sound – close to sounding like a field recording in the village – with a live band feel and minimal studio manipulation.

Afro-American music styles are increasingly capturing  our imagination – just think of Puerto Rican Bomba (Hijos De Agüeybaná), Afro-Peruvian roots, Colombian cumbia and porro etc. – and Ayo is yet another enchanting masterpiece that although it can bring Santana, West African blues, Amadou and Mariam, Manu Chao and various Caribbean flavours in mind it is essentially and authentically Garifuna. Songs like “Gudemei”, “Dungua” (with a Gnawa-like galloping rhythm), “Pomona”, “Mongulu” (the first official music video from the album), “Galuma” and “Ubou” are matchless – sure to occupy many best of the year playlists.

The Garifuna people

Since Ayo is a cornerstone of Garifuna music it is important to get acquainted with the Garifuna communities. The approximately 500,000 Garifuna people form a distinct ethnic minority in the Centromericas (scattered primarily in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and Belize) as the descendants of local Arawak and Carib peoples who intermarried with Nigerians brought forcefully with the slave trade (the British colonial rulers were referring to them also as Black Caribs). The story begins in 1635 when two Spanish slave ships sunk off the coast St. Vincent island and the survivors were hosted by and intermixed with the native Carib populations (who had conquered the earlier Arawak communities).

Several times the Garifuna people became maroons in order to preserve their independence and evade colonial rule; land grabbing on St. Vincent island from the British settlers in order to establish sugarcane plantations led to warfare and eventual withdrawal of the Garifuna from their island (their houses were burned, some were killed and others were imprisoned). As they were forced in exile the Garifuna spread to different areas of Central America. The Garifuna settlement day (November 19) is the most important celebration which lasts for a whole week in Belize.

the garifuna collective live

As countless other ethnic minorities all across the globe, the Garifuna people have endured through hostility, marginalization and exploitation from the dominant culture. Nowadays, the twin forces of modernization and globalization have an impact on Garifuna communities challenging the survival of their unique cultural characteristics.


Related music presented at Freegan Kolektiva:

  1. Hijos De Agüeybaná – Agua Del Sol
  2. Ondatrópica – Ondatrópica
  3. Andra Kouyaté and Sèkè Chi – Saro
  4. Vieux Farka Toure – The Secret
  5. Various Artists – The Mountain Music Project: A Musical Odyssey from Appalachia to Himalaya
  6. Captain Planet – Mystery Trip Vol. 1

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