Lebeha Boys Garifuna Youth / Traditional Garifuna Music
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Lebeha Boys Garifuna Youth
Lebeha Drumming: Traditional Garifuna Music
Innova (www.innovarecordings.com)

cd cover Garifuna villages along the Caribbean coast of Central America have a predominance of school-age youth and their grandparents, while their parents (adults in their twenties, thirties and forties) are working abroad. Given the extent of Garifuna emigration to North America, it is encouraging that young people continue to learn the traditional drumming and singing styles practiced by their elders. The Lebeha Boys are a loosely affiliated group of youthful artists who congregate around the Lebeha Drumming Center in Hopkins, Belize. In early 2005, producer and recordist Philip Blackburn made these field recordings and wrote the notes, which provide a brief overview of Garifuna history and music.

What's particularly striking about this title is its aural affinity with now-classic Garifuna field recordings made by Ruth Stone in the early 1950s, and by Carol and Travis Jenkins in the early 1980s. This is an impressionistic judgment rather than a technical ethnomusicological appraisal, but the sparse instrumentation (a trio of Garifuna garaón drums backed by shakers and turtle-shell percussion), choral singing, call-and-response format and free-form dancing represent the tradition in its most unadorned yet compelling community manifestation. This is not commercially oriented performance, but an enduring form of communal entertainment with African and Amerindian roots that that pre-date the European incursion into the Caribbean.

The individual musicians are not identified in the notes, although the boys' names do appear in the credits to the video included as part of this enhanced CD (alas, the video provides no commentary to contextualize the performance seen on the screen, and technically, the camera work is amateurish). It is surprising that no girls seem to have been involved in the project, because among the Garifuna, women tend to be the most prominent vocalists in traditional music. Indeed, the Garifuna see females as being more closely attuned than males to the divine sphere that inspires the sacred traditions of dugú spirit possession. One can be sure, however, that young girls also continue to learn the songs and vocal styles in the context of the episodic dugú ceremonies that draw Garifuna back to their home communities for spiritual renewal even when they are living abroad.

Given the continued economic imperative of emigration among the Garifuna, one can only imagine that these young artists will carry their musical talents abroad when they reach adulthood themselves. Yet their apprenticeship helps to reproduce a vivid array of expressive cultural traditions that long precede the music's first descriptions (penned by European observers) in the early nineteenth century. It seems quite likely that, however it may change in the future, Garifuna music will continue to reproduce itself in similar fashion for some time to come. - Michael Stone

CD available from cdRoots

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