When the remarkable album Watina was released, nearly four years ago, it launched the tragically brief international career of Andy Palacio and focused attention to the culture and history of the Garifuna community – the descendents of escaped slaves from Africa who inter-married with the indigenous people of St Vincent, and are now scattered across Central America. Palacio died within a year of the album’s release, but his legacy continues in the work of Aurelio Martinez, a singer-songwriter, guitarist and traditional drummer who appeared on Watima and is also a politician in Honduras.
Like Palacio’s album, it’s produced by guitarist Ivan Duran, and matches guitars and traditional percussion against Martinez’s laidback, soulful vocals. But there’s one new influence – Senegal. Martinez has been working with Youssou N’Dour in Dakar, and N’Dour adds his stirring vocals to two of the songs, while elsewhere there is backing from those great veterans of the Afro-Cuban scene, Orchestra Baobab, and from Senegalese rapper Sen Kumpé. The result is an album that veers between lilting, languid songs like the title track, and sudden bursts of energy and anger, as on Yurumei, a lament about the horrors of the slavery days in which fuzz guitar is mixed with Garifuna percussion, Latin riffs and sturdy vocal work from the Garifuna women’s chorus. This promises to be one of the albums of the year.