From Bakabush: Belize
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cd cover Various Artists
From Bakabush: The First Ten Years of Stonetree
Stonetree Records (www.stonetreerecords.com)

In the mid-1980s no recording industry existed in Belize, the former colony of British Honduras, tucked away on the Caribbean coast between Yucatan and Guatemala. African music aficionado Ronnie Graham made several recordings there in the late 1980s, but the equipment and masters mysteriously disappeared, and only aging cassettes and pirated copies survive.

All that changed in 1995 when Belize native Ivan Duran began documenting the native music of Caribbean Central America. Trained in guitar in Mexico, Spain and Cuba, Duran started by producing African-Amerindian Garifuna singer Andy Palacio. That album won international attention for Belizean music, with a track included here. Singer-songwriter-guitarist Adrian Martínez's "Baba" uses a call-and-response female chorus and a sacred rhythm, updating Garifuna ceremonial music's compelling feel. Representing the secular guitar ballad form known as paranda, septuagenarian Paul Nabor's "Naguya Nei" also makes use of a female chorus and a trio of Garifuna drummers; nonagenarian Jursino Cayetano contributes a cut from the critically received Stonetree album Paranda; and singer-guitarist Aurelio Martínez represents the younger generation of paranderos, amplifying the genre's foundations. Drummer Lugua Centeno adapts a bolero to the Garifuna percussion ensemble, revealing the music's openness to influences from across the Caribbean. Women are the most powerful singers among the Garifuna, represented here by Sofia Blanco; listeners can look forward to an upcoming Stonetree project focusing exclusively (and to stunning result) on female Garifuna singers from Belize, Guatemala and Honduras.

There's more to the region's music, of course. The Creole brukdown style recalls the Jamaican mento sound, while boom-and-chime is akin to zydeco with its accordion, drum set, and assorted hand percussion. Two tracks by Wilfred Peters, one of few artists to keep these forms alive in Belize, purveys a sound born in the mahogany camps of the colonial era. Hip-hop, reggae and dub are, perhaps unsurprisingly, more popular among younger folk, and Belize's most talented dub poet, Leroy Young the Grandmaster, contributes an inspired "Que Sera Sera," a wonderfully rendered Creole mambo a la dub (Young is also heard on an overdub of one of the Peters tracks, suggesting a different future for boom-and-chime). Surveying the wealth of the past decade's work, Bakabush shows the promise of music yet to come from the only independent label dedicated to documenting the region's unique home-grown sounds. - Michael Stone

You can hear samples of each track here

CD available from cdRoots


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