On the road with Honduran musician Aurelio Martinez
American journalist Marlon Bishop embarks on a cultural journey with Aurelio Martinez, the finest ex...
Sat, 14 January 17
Darandi is a collection of Honduran artist Aurelio Martinez’s favourite songs from his career, capturing his incendiary live performance, accompanied by some of the Garifuna world’s brightest musical talents. Upbeat, dynamic rhythms and melancholy, heartfelt melodies, this music is both deep and danceable. Discover the inspiration and meaning behind the songs on the album with this track by track guide by NPR Latino USA's Marlon Bishop.
‘Dondo’ is a Garifuna classic, written by late Belizean paranda musician Junie Aranda, who famously carried a guitar slung over his back wherever he went. Like many of the great paranderos of his generation, Aranda didn’t have an international career and wasn’t able to make much money from his music. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a powerful man— anybody who crossed him in Dangriga Town, Belize, where he lived, would get a song written about him in revenge. “When someone does bad things to you, we don’t start fights, we get back at them in a song,” Aranda once said. He reportedly had songs about former lovers, past employers, and people from town that owed him money. Aurelio’s version of this Aranda classic is spruced up with some gorgeous tremolo electric guitar lines.
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Aurelio remembers writing ‘Yalifu,’ one of the standouts from his first album Garifuna Soul, while in Belize recording the album at Stonetree Studios. He was taking a break from a long day of recording, and took a walk down to the edge of the nearby river. Suddenly, he was filled with the feeling of loss he remembers carrying in his youth, missing his father who had immigrated to New York. The song is addressed to a yalifu, or pelican. Aurelio ask the bird, “Pelican, lend me your wings,” because he wants to go and see his father. The song is about his personal story, but for Aurelio it has a much bigger scope — a lament on the themes of immigration, separation, loss, borders and mobility, themes that particularly resound with the Central American experience and its interdependent relationship with the United States.
‘Yange’ is one of the most deeply personal of Aurelio’s songs, as well as one of the most beautiful. It tells of the tragic death of his older brother, José Ángel, nicknamed ‘Yange.’ With their father away in the U.S., José Ángel often took the role of the male head of the household, and helped raise Aurelio. They played together in Aurelio’s first band, Lita Ariran. One day, José Ángel got sick—Aurelio says he was poisoned by a jealous co-worker on a ship they worked on. Their mother took him to doctors in Honduras and Mexico, looked for medicine everywhere, but couldn’t save him. This song is written in tribute to his spirit, which lives on in Aurelio’s life and music.
‘Laru Beya’ is the title track from Aurelio’s second studio album, partially recorded in Senegal while Aurelio was taking part in the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, which paired Aurelio in a mentorship with Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour. The original recording of this song included Senegal’s legendary Orchestra Baobab, whose West African take on Afro-Cuban music infuses the track’s slick, reverbed-out guitar arrangement. It’s a love song, about the women in Aurelio’s hometown who would stand at the edge of the sea before holidays, waiting for their husbands to return from long fishing trips out at sea.
This song is a tribute to Sielpa, one of the most important bands in the history of the Garifuna paranda, and major inspiration for Aurelio’s music. The more pop-dance oriented genre of punta rock brought many Garifuna bands into the Honduran (and Central American) mainstream, but fewer bands were more popular in the community itself than Sielpa. The living band members, now old in age, have relocated to The Bronx, New York, but their albums still can be heard blaring out of homes in Garifuna towns. This song is an adaptation of a classic Sielpa hit, and it has a more traditional harmonic progression and feel than many other Aurelio songs.
Most Garifuna communities are Roman Catholic, but that doesn’t stop them from also participating in the older “mother religion,” as Aurelio calls it. Just as family is of supreme importance in Garifuna culture, worship of ancestors is the fundamental element of Garifuna religion. The dugu is the most important traditional ceremony, which Aurelio evokes in his song of the same name. The ritual involves communication with the spirit world, through singing and dancing, with the goal of healing the living through veneration of the dead.
The conflicts between men and women, Aurelio says, are common fodder for Garifuna songs. Using the bouncy rhythm of the traditional coropatia dance, “Sañanaru” tells the story of a canoe, as a metaphor for an independent-minded woman. It’s about a canoe that fills with water, no matter what its owner does. He decides that if he can’t repair it, he should just ground it on the riverbank and not take it back out onto the river. “If he can’t govern the canoe, better to park it,” says Aurelio. “The power of a woman is sometimes so great that the man can’t control it, and this song reflects that power. ”
The title track first recorded on Aurelio’s third studio album, Lándini paints an image from Aurelio’s childhood in Plaplaya. During the day, he would go off to school, and his mother and grandmother would go off into the forest beyond town to tend crops and gather wood — the work traditionally done by women. After school, the kids would head down to the lándini, or boat landing, and wait for their mothers to return down the river in their canoes. This song is about that moment: waiting at the dock for his mother to come gliding down the river, enjoying the silence of the town with the adults all gone to work, listening to the fluttering birdsong of the rainforest at dusk.
When a baby is newly born, he or she is said to have “red feet”, or funa tugudirigu in the Garifuna language. This song deals with the social issue of paternity in Garifuna communities. Having children outside of marriage is extremely common these days, and Aurelio wrote this song to encourage young men to take responsibility for the children they co-create. As for the composition — Aurelio says ‘Funa Tugudirigu’ is influenced by his love for country-western music from the U.S., which is very popular (perhaps unexpectedly) throughout the Caribbean coastal region of Central America. As legend has it, it’s a musical passion originated by fishermen, who could sometimes pick up AM radio from Alabama or Florida when out at sea.
“Traditional songs,” Aurelio explains, “often are about somebody trying to tell another person something in an indirect way.” For example— ‘Nari Golu’ (which means “my gold tooth”) is the story of a woman from a village who asks her man to bring back a gold tooth for her from the city, to make her more beautiful. The hidden meaning is that she’s telling him subtly that she has another lover, and she actually wants to be more beautiful for the other man. On the musical side, Aurelio says this song is a good example of how his music harmonically expands on the paranda tradition, which typically uses just a few basic chord progressions. Plus— it features one of the most memorable guitar melodies from Aurelio’s catalogue in the introduction.
On Aurelio’s first album, Garifuna Soul, he sang ‘Lumalali Lumaniga’ with his friend and fellow Garifuna music star, the late Andy Palacio of Belize. The song is a message to the various NGOs that represent Garifuna interests, reminding them that they must be accountable to their people. “Many times these organizations are irresponsible, and they use the Garifuna people as an excuse to raise funds that they end up keeping themselves instead of improving the community,” says Aurelio. Lumalali Lumaniga translates to “the voice of silence,” referring to the unheard voices of children, the old or the sick—the people who suffer when community leaders pocket money meant for all.
This is Aurelio’s version of ‘Naguya Nei’— the most iconic song by paranda legend Paul Nabor, and a Garifuna standard if there ever was one. Born Alfonso Palacio in Belize, Nabor performed throughout Garifuna towns for years, and is considered by many to be the forefather of the modern paranda. The song’s refrain says “When I die, bury me with my band.” Nabor passed on in 2014, at age 86. In many ways, Aurelio Martinez is carrying on the torch that Paul Nabor lit. They participated together on the Paranda album from Stonetree Records, released in 2000.
Released 20 January 2017
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