Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Umalali & the Garifuna Collective

Monday night, Sept. 1, after being in the house all day, checking the news and calling those relative whom I could reach to see how they fared considering the rain and winds and tornadoes...and finding everyone safe, I went out to see this fantastic ensemble of musicians from Honduras, Belize and Guatemala, descendants of Africans and the Carib and Arawak Indians.

I'd know about the Garifuna people because of a film I saw by a native woman about hos seductive the outside world seems until you get out there and find out how rich she really is. I thought it interesting that the ship carrying Africans capsized in the Americas. The Africans escaped into the hills, flat lands and everywhere they could hide to avoid recapture.

The three women who comprise a fraction of the community they represent musically were a mother and and daughter, Sofia Blanco Arzu, of Livingston, Guatemala, and Silvia Baltazar Rochez, (who now lives in Seattle). The third singer, Desere Diego, performed also. Younger than the two, last night she was a lovely addition to the ensemble who danced and sang and told captivating stories of a little known people in Central America.

They played songs from the latest CD plus songs from Andy Palacio's Watina, and the other Garifuna Collective compilation out just before this, songs performed with original musicians last year at Stern Grove, the last time we saw Andy alive here in the San Francisco Bay. The lovely man died suddenly January 19, this year. Rolando "Chiciman Sosa was in the house last night on segunda and acoustic guitar and vocals, as was Joshua Arana on primaro and vocals. Sam Harris was on lead guitar. Lloyd was on lead vocals and guitar. It was his first time in the states. I didn't get the name of the third guitarist who also danced during the first set on a traditional song: "Chumba Wanaragua." In this song which pulled rhythmically from the shared indigenous and African roots of the Garifuna people, showed more than the other songs, how music and dance mirrored the daily lives of the Garifuna people. There are songs for everything from making casava mill and baking bread to fishing and unsuccessful attempts at gathering honey from a hive.

The second set opened with a lovely accapella song, "Naguwara" by the three woman. In both sets Garifuna people from the audience, men and women, joined the company on stage, saluted the drummers and danced. It was pretty cool. Those folks could dance! The evening closed with a tribute to Andy Palacio and a prayer before we all danced and sang the title track of his last project, "Watina."


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