Aurelio - Laru Beya / Aurelio Martinez
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Aurelio
Laru Beya
Next Ambiance/Sub Pop Records (www.subpop.com)

The vexed cultural encounter between Spanish, English, indigenous and African-descent peoples in Caribbean Central America is perhaps most dramatically embodied in the history of the African-Amerindian Garifuna of coastal Honduras, Guatemala and Belize. In partnership with producer Ivan Duran, Andy Palacio, the Belizean Garifuna artist had just begun to reach world audiences when his unexpected passing in January 2008 dealt a severe blow to Garifuna music. Honduran Garifuna singer-songwriter Aurelio Martinez, Palacio’s immensely talented understudy and frequent collaborator, inherited the mantle, and just a month later, began recording Laru Beya. Three years in the making, Laru Beya shows considerable musical evolution, and is a worthy follow up to Aurelio’s Garifuna Soul (2004). He is a consummate performer with an engaging stage presence, a gifted vocalist and a stunning dancer­not to discount his work on acoustic guitar, turtle shell percussion and maracas.

Production corresponded with Aurelio’s selection by Youssou N’Dour to collaborate under the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, and the two spent a month trading songs in Dakar. N’Dour can be heard on “Labara Wanwa” and “Wamada” (Our Friend), the latter a call-out to Andy Palacio, now living among the ancestors. Aurelio stalwarts Rolando “Chichiman” Sosa (tenor sax, Garifuna drum, congas, percussion, vocals), Guayo Cedeño (a smoking lead electric guitar), Onan “Sambo” Castillo (lead Garifuna drum), Ivan Duran (bass, electric guitar), Al Ovando (electric guitar), Phil Nicolas (electric piano) and a superb women’s chorus (Esmeralda Arzu, Sofia Blanco, Neta Fernandez, Nelsi Flores, Andrea Lambert, Esther Valerio and Idalia Valerio) blend in a modern yet unmistakably Garifuna sound.

But the Central Americans’ openness to Senegalese sounds is manifest with players on baritone guitar, trombone, xalam (Senegalese lute), kora, hand percussion, and sabar and tama drums. The title track and “Bisien Nu,” a love song, feature the French-language vocals of Orchestra Baobab singers Rudy Gomis and Balla Sidibé. In a contemporary global vein, “Wéibayuwa” (Sharks) is a beguiling diatribe against self-serving politicians, wherein Dakar rapper Gaston Baye Sen engages in a striking counterpoint with Aurelio and company. Mamadou “Jimi” Mbaye’s lead electric guitar gives a West African feel to “Ereba,” in praise of cassava bread, an essential traditional foodstuff whose ritualized communal preparation and consumption assumes spiritual dimensions in Garifuna culture, yet something that the younger generation has learned to devalue.

The songs generally address themes of everyday Garifuna life, interpersonal relations, labor migration, language loss, spirituality, illness, death, encroachment on traditional lands, and the deleterious influences of global popular culture. To truly appreciate the rippling texture of this recording, listen with headphones­several times. Every audition will reveal more depth and detail. Much of Laru Beya was recorded in a makeshift Honduras village beach studio, and the background sounds of daily life are woven through the music. It’s a warm and engaging aesthetic, antithetical to the laundered, jimmied, digital clang of commercial production, but absolutely true to the spirit of Garifuna life, reflecting producer Ivan Duran’s dedication to capturing the quotidian feel of this precious and artistically prolific if little-known Central American culture and people. If Andy Palacio’s Wátina set a high standard in vaulting Garifuna music squarely onto the international stage, Laru Beya reveals a worthy successor and promise yet to come in Aurelio and his Garifuna collective. -- Michael Stone

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