This is an incredibly rich collection, with a depth and range that grows with each listen. From the haunting, bluesy exuberance of Paul Nabor’s “Naguya Nei” to the fresh sounds of Aurelio Martinez’s “Africa” and on to the primal urgency of Lugua Centeno’s “Timbloru”, Paranda takes the listener through the tapestry of feeling and soulful striving that lies at the heart of Garifuna culture.
Producers Ivan Duran and Gil Abarbanel brought together these remarkable artists and sparked the revival of Paranda music in the region.
Listed as one of the 100 essential Latin Recordings by Rough Guide books, Paranda is a rare gem.
Paranda is both a Garifuna rhythm and a genre of music. The basic rhythm can be heard in Garifuna traditional drumming styles that date all the way back to St. Vincent and West Africa. Paranda became a genre itself in the 19th century, shortly after the Garifuna arrived in Honduras. It was there where they first encountered Latin music, and incorperated the acoustic guitar and a touch of Latin and Spanish rythms into the music. Paranda reached its promenance in the early part of the 20th century and has changed little since. Its instrumentation is totally acoustic: Large wooden Garifuna drums (called Primero and Segunda), shakers, Scrapers, Turtle Shell percussion, and acoustic guitar.
In the summer of 1995, while recording Andy Palacio’s Keimoun album, Andy played me a tape contaning two songs he had recorded at the Garifuna Temple in Punta Gorda. It was Paul Nabor performing two of his Paranda compositions. Although many of us here in Belize were familiar with Paranda music as played by the local Punta Rock bands, we knew very little of the Parranderos and their music. I was overwhelmed by what I heard on that tape. Nabor’s incredible passion and raw emotion made me appreciate Garifuna music like nothing I have ever heard before.
Eighteen months later, Gil Abarbanel and I started what became known as “The Paranda Project”, which took us through two years of research, travelling and recording in Garifuna villages in Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala. Unfortunately, Paranda is a dying art. Just a handful of composers are still alive and very few young musicians still practice the style. We hope this album will encourage the younger generations to keep Paranda alive and to never forget the legacy of these legendary Parranderos.
There are only a handful of Paranderos alive today. Often only 1 or 2 per village and virtually all of them are in their 60s, 70s and 80s. In Central America, like most parts of the world, the younger generation has fallen in love with Western Pop, or its derivatives. Most musicians play either pop music, or the Punta Rock.
Paul Nabor (tracks 2, 8, 14)
Paul Nabor is the greatest living Paranda artist. He is not only considered a musical legend among the Garifuna, he is also the “Buyei” (religious leader of his community). Sadly, he is also the last living Parandero in Punta Gorda. Punta Gorda (locals call it PG) is a small coastal village is southern Belize.
With mountains to the west, and the Caribbean sea to the east, there is only one dirt road to PG: A long bumpy 5 hour drive from the center of the country. At 70, Nabor still spends many of his days at sea fishing, evenings playing his guitar, all while working as spiritual leader for his community. He often talks about how life has changed for the Garifuna. “Growing up, we got all we needed from the earth. We fished, we farmed. We picked coconuts, made our own instruments. Occasionally we’d trade for new clothes. That was it. After the introduction of ‘money’ things changed. People now feel that they need ‘more and more stuff, things’. More and more Garifuna keep moving to the cities where they are unhappy since they’ve lost touch with the land.”
Paul Nabor is no longer in good health, though he continues to work a full schedule of fishing, playing guitar, and leading his congregation. Nabor wrote the moving, “Naguya Nei” (track 2) when his sister was on her deathbed. She had asked to be remembered in song at her funeral. The song has become almost an anthem in Punta Gorda. Nabor has expressed that he would like the funeral procession to sing this song at his burial as well.
Jursino Cayetano (tracks 3 and 9)
More than half of Guatemala’s 5000 Garifuna live Livingston, including Jursino Cayetano. The town now has number of small hotels offering excursions for “eco-travellers” on route between the bay of Amatique and Lake Izabal. Cayetano, now 60, is Guatemala’s last living Parandero. He is a tall skinny soft spoken old man who, like Nabor, Cayetano grew up fishing. One of ten children, he taught himself the guitar at the age of 27, and has been playing ever since. For nearly two decades, he was able to earn a living as a musician playing Paranda in Livingston and the nearby coastal city of Puerto Barrios, something that is impossible to do today. So, Cayetano can be once again found alternating between fishing in the day, and playing the guitar his free time. As I began recording a song to use on my radio program, we immediately attracted a large group of Garifuna children eager to see why an American journalist was taping traditional Garifuna folk songs. After explaining in my bad Spanish what I was trying to do, a group of about 15 started dancing around me. This was certainly better than any beach resort. Acoustic guitar, Garifuna drums, Coke bottles, turtle shells, and Cayetano’s mellow yet bluesy voice. I was once again reminded of music of West African guitarists Mansour Seck or Ali Farka Toure. I then told Cayetano of how his music reminded me a bit of music of Mali and Senegal. He looked at me completely puzzled. “Mali?” responded Cayetano. “I don’t understand.” I forgot that in Livingston, Guatemala, West African geography probably wasn’t part of the curriculum. I then rephrased the question in my bad Spanish and explained how his music reminded me quite a bit of what I heard in West Africa. “Of course. We are Africans.”
Juni Aranda (tracks 1,7 and 12)
Juni Aranda is one of the younger Paranderos at 57. He lives in Dangriga, the largest Garifuna city in Belize. The city is known as the cultural capital for the Garifuna, and was the birthplace of Punta Rock. Today, many top Punta artists live there, including Titiman Flores and Mohobub Flores.
Sadly, like most of the region, there are only a few Paranderos left in Dangriga, and Aranda is the only musician in the city still playing Paranda. Currently unemployed, but while he may lack steady work, he hasn’t lost a bit of spirit. In his small wooden home, he was ecstatic upon hearing the first version of the Paranda recording session. Aranda explained that many Paranda songs were a way of “getting back” at people. In a thick Creole accent and a scratchy voice he explained, “When someone does bad things to you, we don’t start fights, we get back at them in a song.” Aranda has songs about people in town who owe him money, past girlfriends, and former employers. If someone has crossed Aranda, everyone in town quickly learns about it.
Aranda bought his first guitar at the age of 15, a guitar that was destroyed by Hurricane Hattie of 1961, a hurricane that destroyed much of Dangriga. Hundreds were killed, including Aranda’s uncle Oscario who taught him how to play Paranda. Junior Aranda still sings about Hattie, an event that is still vivid for all Garifuna of his generation. From the sad remembrances of Hattie, Junior Aranda was once again breaking into laughter when Ivan and I asked him about his new song, “Mingigili”. “I don’t get it,” remarked Ivan, “Everytime I bring up this song, you can’t stop laughing.”
For the next five minutes, Aranda laughed hysterically. Finally, he explained “Mingigili”. “What the song says is,” once again he couldn’t stop laughing, “When your farts no stink maan”. We were a little confused. “See, it is about when your farts don’t stink, and your lady still loves you. When you are so much in love, you can do anything, fart, spit, and she is still crazy about you.” The three of us then began laughing uncontrollably.
Today Junior Aranda is teaching his son, Austin (now in high school) Paranda music to pass on the music for future generations.
Gabaga Williams / Dale Guzman (Tracks 10 and 13)
Gabaga Williams is one of the greatest Garifuna composers of all time. When he joined the other Paranderos to record this album in Belize City he immediately picked up his guitar and began to play. With severe arthritis, and health failing, he broke into tears as he couldn’t finish a song. Guitarist Dale Guzman, a school-teacher and Parandero from Belize City, comforted Gabaga, whom Dale has long admired as a legendary composer, assuring him that he would perform his compositions on the album.
[NOTE: Since this was written, Gabaga has passed away. He was buried in Dangriga Town, and is always remembered in song wherever Paranda music is played.]
Lugua Centeno Petio / Teofilo Centeno (Tracks 5 and 11)
Lugua Is the leader of band Lugua & the Larubeya Drummers and has toured through Europe and North America. Lugua grew up in Honduras before moving to the Yabrough neighborhood of Belize City in 1984. Although there are many more Garifuna in Honduras compared to Belize (160,000 and 13,000 respectively), Lugua left Honduras, a country dominated by Latin music to be in Belize, which has become the center of Garifuna music.
With a booming voice reminiscent of Manu Dibango or Babatunde Olatunji, Lugua regularly enlivens Yabra’s quiet streets banging on huge wooden Garifuna drums. He joined the Paranderos for this recording as a tribute to his late father who was a legendary Parandero in Honduras. Tracks 5 and 11 are covers of some of Lugua’s favorite songs that his father Teofilo sang to him while growing up in Honduras.
Aurelio Martinez (Tracks 4, 6 and 15)
Aurelio Martinez represents the future of Paranda. At 27, he is the youngest musician on the album. He is also the youngest of 10 children, most of which are musicians, but he is the only one who decided to become a professional musician.
Aurelio began playing at the age of 7, singing and drumming at the temple choir in Plaplaya, a small Garifuna village of 100 families in Honduras. In 1984 he moved to La Ceiba, Honduras. “I’ve lived here since then. I have been very fortunate to have learned so much of my traditions and culture from my parents, unfortunately many young people now don’t even speak the language.”
Like most Paranderos, Aurelio sees music as a way to express feelings, and confront problems. “We write a song when we have a problem with another member of the community, instead of confronting that person and pick a fight, we will write him a song and even make fun of him.”
“I’m one of the very few Paranderos of my generation who writes conscious lyrics dealing with social problems that face our communities. music is very important for the Garifuna people, we probably consume more music than food. through songs we can learn about our problems and find ways to improve.”
Andy Palacio (Track 6)
Andy Palacio isn’t a Parandero, he is Belize’s top Punta Rocker. He is constantly touring, and often does Punta Rock versions of Paranda songs. On his album “Keimoun”, he did a Punta cover of Paul Nabor’s “Nabi”. He joined Aurelio Martinez on Track 6. Palacio says, “This is endangered culture. This is why I feel so close to it. To be able to make a contribution and to able to influence the next generation. It was very emotional for me.”
Aurelio Martinez sums up the experience of these sessions: “It was a great experience to participate in this record. I feel very proud to be in the same album with such great Paranderos. And in a symbolic way I feel like they are passing me the torch to carry on the tradition. To me this is more than a Grammy.”