BELIZE: Wátina - Andy Palacio & The Garifuna Collective
Updated: Jan 20, 2021
A beautiful musical portrait of Garifuna culture, Wátina also acts as a final tribute for its mastermind and lead singer
A great by-product of this whole enterprise to listen to music from every country is that I’m learning so much about the world and the amazing diversity of cultures within it. It has opened up a whole world of new music, history and culture that I simply had never come across before and probably never would have. Wátina by Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective is an excellent example of this. This was the last album released by Andy Palacio before his untimely death in 2008 at the age of 47. He was a member of the Garifuna people, a nation of people who live in Central America, with the largest populations found in Honduras and Belize, the latter of which is where Palacio was from. They are a people that are both indigenous Caribbean and African in origin. According to historical record, the first Africans came to St Vincent after a slave ship crashed off the shore, and they later intermarried with the local Carib population. This is what eventually became known as the Garifuna people. Fiercely independent, they resisted colonisation for as long as they could, until they were eventually forcibly displaced by the British from St Vincent, and they settled on the coasts of Central America.
“Ultimately, it’s a window into the culture of a not very well-known tribe of people, while also being an excellent, enjoyable and interesting album of songs at the same time.”
A marginalised and oppressed culture for most of its existence, there was a renewed interest and pride in Garifuna culture in Belize starting in the 1980s, which Andy Palacio both noticed and decided to make the most of. Fearing the extinction of his native culture in the near future, he began to record music in the traditional Garifuna style, and he became recognised as a star in his native country, as well as an overseas cultural ambassador. Wátina is perhaps the best expression of this, and it was an album that Palacio himself considered his masterpiece. Though it is tragic he died so young, it can at least be appreciated that he went out on a high, helping to ensure the survival of his people’s culture for years to come.
The album is sung in the Garifuna language, and as such it relies on the emotion the sound evokes, and by and large it is successful in doing that. It features some musical aspects that could be seen as African in origin, as well as music that is more traditionally Caribbean. Unsurprising, considering the origins of the Garifuna. The songs all have very complex and rhythmic percussion, which perhaps speaks to the African origins of the tribe. This is best showcased on the song Yagane, which solely consists of Palacio singing over a drum beat. The guitar is also an integral part of the album, excellently performed in a style that is more redolent of the Caribbean. The band that plays on the record, the Garifuna Collective, is formed from an inter-generational mix of Garifuna people, ensuring that the album is reflective of the culture’s past and future. The album sways from happy songs to more melancholy songs, and it’s an attractive mix.
There is the fear that an album such as this could be a bit boring or repetitive due to the similarity of the songs, but I did not find that to be the case here. To my mind it was a very even and consistent album, and as such it worked throughout for me, as I liked it from the start. It may not have songs that are extremely catchy, but the music is very interesting and listenable nonetheless. It’s a strong piece of music as a whole, even if I would struggle to pinpoint many songs that are standouts. Ultimately, it’s a window into the culture of a not very well-known tribe of people, while also being an excellent, enjoyable and interesting album of songs at the same time.