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Garifuna cultural ambassafor Aurelio at Brooklyn Museum
Oct 3, 2015 @ 5:00 pm - 6:00 pm
One of the most extraordinary and passionate Central American artists of his generation, Aurelio Martinez, known simply as Aurelio, is a musical ambassador and champion of the Garifuna, a culturally threatened African Amerindian ethnic minority living primarily along the Caribbean coasts of Belize and Honduras, but also Guatemala and Nicaragua. Hailing from the small community of Plaplaya in Honduras, he grew up immersed in Garifuna rhythms, rituals and songs. With his powerfully evocative vocals and his talent as a composer, guitarist and percussionist, Aurelio is a central figure in the perpetuation and innovation of this unique musical tradition.
Garifuna culture reflects the African and Caribbean roots of Aurelio’s ancestors, Africans who survived the wreck of a slave ship in 1675 and intermarried with local Carib and Arawak peoples, only to be deported from the island of St. Vincent to Central America by the British in the late 18th century. The Garifuna language is Arawakan and their music is quite different from that of the rest of Central America, with a dense percussive range and emphasis on vocal artistry. Garifuna music is rooted in the dügü ritual, a sacred practice of spirit-possession that exhibits cultural kinship with rituals documented in Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Trinidad and Brazil, all with West African cultural roots. In 2001 UNESCO proclaimed the language, dance and music of the Garifuna as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. “My history is very special,” states Martinez, “I don’t work music to make money. I do music to support my culture.”
The particular style of Garifuna music that Aurelio plays incorporates the guitar – adopted from the Spanish sometime during the past two centuries – and is called paranda. He follows in the footsteps of the legendary paranderos of the Caribbean coast of Central America, including his friend and mentor, the late Andy Palacio, whom the New York Times called “the man who saved Garifuna music.”
Born in 1976 into a family possessing a long and distinguished musical heritage, at six Aurelio was already playing drums at social gatherings and picking up his father’s guitar once he was big enough to hold it. In addition to his energizing singing, percussion and guitar playing, Martinez frequently puts down his guitar to dance to paranda music. Making up the rest of his band are Dony Medina (Garifuna drum), Carlos Castillo (Garifuna drum, vocals), Luis Antonio Penalva (guitar), Andy Romei Ordonez (shaker, vocals), and Alex Ciego (bass, vocals).
In 1997, Martinez contributed to the now famous paranda recording sessions, delivering three masterful performances, including his well-known composition, “Africa,” the refrain of which is “Oh Africa, the race of our ancestors.” He was the youngest of the paranderos represented on that album, and has become one of the most dedicated to keeping Garifuna culture alive.
A recipient of the prestigious Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative in 2009, Aurelio Martinez was chosen by superstar Youssou N’Dour to be his protégé. This inspiring musical union produced Aurelio’s release, Laru Beya, and he has since been touring often, appearing on stages in Europe, Japan, the U.S., Mexico and neighboring Central American countries.
Aurelio’s commitment to the Garifuna people saw him enter politics in 2005, becoming the first senator of African descent in the Honduran congress. One of his goals is to develop a music/dance school in his district that would teach traditional and popular music and dance to students, and show them possibilities for careers in the arts. Aurelio released his latest album, Lándini, in 2014; the album was named to multiple year-end critics lists, including The Sunday Times [UK] and fRoots, among others.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of Aurelio’s career. The Bronx-based Garifuna Coalition, USA celebrated this achievement with a musical tribute in his honor.
“The leading light of Garifuna music has come home to roost…searing vocal melodies and delicious grooves…a splendid new entry” – Afropop Worldwide
“A sublime mix of vibrato-rich electric guitar and piquant acoustic guitar over sashaying syncopated grooves, and a hypnotically chanting chorus often answers his easy, soulful singing; the upbeat material is great, and the gorgeously meditative ballads are even better. “ – Chicago Reader
“With his talent, vision, charisma and searing voice, Aurelio is a big part of the reason (Garifuna music) has achieved outsize recognition internationally. ” – National Public Radio
“The singer has the talent to become a major international star on the level of Gilberto Gil, or Youssou N’Dour.” – Nuvo (Indianapolis)
“The most significant artist in the current Garifuna music scene…a captivating album with irresistible rhythms [and] outstanding musicianship” – World Music Central