At the end of the day, villagers would return in their boats to the river landing, gathering to hear paranda, the guitar-driven music of Garifuna troubadours who teased and taught, bemoaned and praised community life.
His childhood village has become a touchstone for Aurelio, a dedicated Garifuna cultural advocate and musical innovator. In original songs crafted by Aurelio and his mother Maria Martinez, as well as traditional tunes, he returns to the landing place that launched him with Lándini (“landing” in Garifuna), a swaying, bittersweet homage to his beloved home and people.
I consider this album to be the sound of my Garifuna people.On the previous album [Laru Beya] we experimented and collaborated with other artists to reconnect what was lost between Africa and America. This album is purely Garifuna, and the entire spirit of the music reflects the Garifuna experience.
Though it incorporates elements from a wide variety of sources, Garifuna music’s heart beats with very personal, deceptively simple tales. Aurelio credits his mother Maria, who dreamed of being a professional singer, with introducing him to the basics of Garifuna songcraft. Like many Garifuna, she composed her own songs based on community events and her personal experience. She would teach the verse and chorus of the songs to her son, who would then go on to build on the tale by adding another verse, in traditional Garifuna style.
My mother is the sole inspiration for this album, says Aurelio. My mother sees herself reflected in me, to a large degree, the only one of the family who could fulfill her dream of singing professionally. She reminds me of songs, and will give me advice on music and the songs. She’s the best example I have in my life of what a human being should be, my main consultant and confidante.
Irawini (“Midnight”) reflects this affectionate, collaborative bond between mother and son. Composed by Maria, it tells of listening to Aurelio play guitar in the distance, as she waits anxiously for his return home one night.
Garifuna songs, be they new or very old, are often filled with teasing humor and straightforward meditations on relationships. They chronicle major events in the life of a community; Milaguru is a plea for the captain of a ferryboat that capsized, killing all aboard, to be careful and steer his passengers home. Other songs tell of personal sorrows: the persecution and heartbreak of Durugubei Mani, which laments the singer’s persecution by the community, or Nafagua, which laments the death of a loved one.
What’s really important is how the listener interprets a song via his or her own experience, explains album producer Ivan Duran. When a Garifuna song becomes popular in the community, it’s usually not because it has a catchy melody or it’s a fun song. It’s because the experience that is conveyed in the song resonates with the listeners’ own experiences. Songs that resonate are re-purposed, transformed over time as singers add new names and places, new thoughts and verses.
They often carry a double meaning that embraces life’s ambivalence, the gray area between love and irritation, between happiness and woe. It’s a combination Garifuna troubadours have refined to streamlined perfection, pairing upbeat, dynamic rhythms with melancholy, heartfelt melodies.
In recording Lándini, Duran – who hails from Belize and has dedicated most of his professional life to working with Garifuna artists – strove to accentuate songs’ double nature, with their complex emotional resonances. Duran’s touches are restrained and subtle, leaving the spotlight on Aurelio and his long-time band’s delicate drive and passionate performances, on the sounds of the drums, voices, and guitars masterfully played by Guayo Cedeño.
SAÑANARU (I CAN’T HANDLE HER)
I can’t handle her character, I don’t know what to do with her and all her defects. I’ll just park her there, like a canoe.
This song could be about a love affair, or a difficult moment between relatives, but it gets to the heart of the bittersweet difficulties of close relationships, with music that straddles the upbeat and the melancholy with typical Garifuna grace.
Please dress me up so that I can look beautiful when Nando comes back home.
Co-written with Maria, this tune chides unfaithful women who get into mischief while their men are at work. The singer, however, remains devoted and loyal, waiting eagerly for her love’s return.
MILAGURU (THE MIRACLE)
Captain, please hold the wheel so you can land in Guanaja and save the life of all your passengers. Captain, do everything you can so you can bring us back to our families tonight.
Inspired by a tragic ferry accident in the 1990s that killed everyone aboard, this song, written by a grieving relative of one of the victims, implores the ferry captain to take care as he guides his ship.
NAFAGUA (I WILL TRY)
I cannot believe it. I will try and speak to him to see if he can wake up from his coffin.
A traditional song made up of several short vignettes, Nafagua describes the sorrow of a loved one’s sudden death, as well as the return of a long-lost traveler.
NARI GOLU (MY GOLDEN TOOTH)
What did you bring me from Porto Barrios? You brought me these gold teeth. Now please buy me a new pair of shoes, and give me some money for a dress, so I can look good and show my girlfriends.
A light-hearted, humorous song by Maria, filled with good-natured teasing.
My boat is parked here and the people have gone to the bush. Look at me here, I’m waiting here by the river. Why is the plantation so far away? Why do we have to go so far to reap the food to feed our families?
A song about one of the main meeting places in Plaplaya, the river landing where villagers dock their boats, and a meditation on the difficulties of making a living.
LIRUN WEYU (SAD DAY)
It’s a really sad day. None of my friends have even brought me a plate of food. Mom, I know I’m useless now here, just lying in the hospital. When I die no one will care…Bury me by the beach in my town.
A newer song by Shelton Petillo, a young Garifuna composer in Belize, this tale of neglect and sadness captures a frequent theme in Garifuna songs, the feeling of being forgotten and abandoned by your loved ones.
DURUGUBEI MANI (EVIL PEOPLE)
They say there is authority and law, but that’s not true. What did I do, that they want to hang me?
This traditional song laments the singer’s sense of helplessness and injustice in the face of the community’s condemnation.
I hear the guitar from far away. I hear Aurelio and his guitar visiting midnight.
In this poetic account, Maria paints a vivid picture of her late-night vigils waiting for her musician son to return home. She hears his guitar first and knows he’s on his way.
FUNA TUGUDIRUGU (UNBORN CHILD)
Every day that passes I see you with this sickness. This will bring you problems. It will always bring you babies. This is a bad disease that is going around town.
This song addresses the “sickness” many girls succumb to in Garifuna communities: pregnancy at a tender age. The song advises young women to think carefully about their choices before taking on the responsibilities of single motherhood.
NITU (OLDER SISTER)
I love my big sister, but if anyone touches her, the peace is over. Just because you’re older than me doesn’t give you the right to insult me. Never be ashamed of me, and I won’t be ashamed of you.
A traditional take on the many sides of sibling relationships, touching on protectiveness, rivalry, and a longing for reciprocity.
Ginger is medicine for my body. I’ve been in love with this woman a long time, but she won’t accept me.
Garifuna often use ginger medicinally, and singers like to chew on the root before performing. However, even the potent plant can’t help the singer of this song, composed by Aurelio, who bemoans women’s narrow focus on money and possessions.