Belizean artist Andy Palacio is the musical standard-bearer for the Garifuna, formerly known as the Black Carib, whose unique mixed-race culture emerged after two galleons bearing African slaves broke up in a storm off the isle of St Vincent. Survivors ended up scattered along the mainland coast from Nicaragua to Belize.
The Garifuna have kept their language and distinct musical identity–but only just. Palacio and Wátina's producer, Ivan Duran, have spent years seeking out the remaining pockets of Garifuna culture: its songs, rhythms, and leading musicians. Wátina features a multigenerational lineup of artists from Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras, brought together as the Garifuna Collective.
The music is fabulously soulful, and clearly African in origin. On "Yagane", the voices of Palacio and septuagenarian songwriter Paul Nabor are backed only by drumming on a table and tapping on a rum bottle. Most of the time, however, a full electro-acoustic band plays–with an unmistakably Caribbean swing and echoes of Jamaican, Haitian, and coastal-Mexican styles.
Each of the 12 songs is based on a traditional Garifuna rhythm and is mainly upbeat in feel–including infectious dance numbers like "Miami" and "Beiba"–but a mournful character permeates the melodies and vocals, suggesting the blues, especially on "Sin Precio". Ultimately, these grooves cut deep. Wátina is already a big hit in Europe and destined to be a world-music classic.