Born in the tiny coastal hamlet of Plaplaya on Honduras' Caribbean coast, Aurelio Martinez, 39, may be one of the last generations to grow up steeped in Garifuna tradition. These traditions encompass the African and Caribbean Indian roots of his ancestors, a group of shipwrecked slaves who intermarried with local natives on the island of St. Vincent, only to be deported to the Central American coast in the late eighteenth century.
Aurelio learn't from his family, including his father, a well-loved local troubadour who improvised playful paranda songs that embrace Garifuna roots and Latin sounds. He became a drummer almost as soon as he began to walk, thanks to his uncles and grandfather. From his vocally talented mother, he learned to sing and picked up many songs she crafted.
A prodigy of percussion, Aurelio began performing at Garifuna ceremonies when just a boy, even at the most sacred events where children were usually not allowed. By the time he left Plaplaya to attend school at 14, he was a respected musician with a firm grounding in Garifuna rhythms, rituals, and songs.
While attending secondary school at the provincial capital of La Cieba, Aurelio dove into diverse and innovative musical projects that took him outside the traditional sphere of performance. He played professionally with popular Latin ensembles, wrote music for theater and pop groups, and refined his musical skills with private teachers.
He soon founded a Garifuna ensemble, Lita Ariran, one of the first Garifuna groups to appear on an internationally distributed recording. Aurelio's virtuosic musicianship and passionate performances made him a mainstay of the La Cieba music scene, where he was best loved for his take on punta rock, the high-energy, Garifuna roots-infused pop genre that took Central America by storm in the 1990s.
His musical career took a global turn thanks to his Belizean friend and fellow musician Andy Palacio, who organized a major Garifuna festival and invited Aurelio. The two artists struck up a decades-long friendship thanks in part to their shared hopes for the future of Garifuna music and culture.