In the midst of last week's immense run of amazing musical happenings around the city was an event celebrating some exciting news for the world music scene. On Wednesday evening, Aurelio Martinez, master Garifuna musician hailing from Honduras, hosted a lively, music-filled evening to welcome the arrival of a recording studio in Manhattan with a world music focus. Chris Theberge has created Theberge Music Works (http://www.thebergemusicworks.com/) with an aim to draw in artists from around the globe, and the studio is designed specifically with percussion in mind. After Wednesday we can certainly vouch for the beautiful sound created there!
Over the course of the night we were treated to performances by Aurelio Martinez and his fellow Garifuna musicians. Radiant with smiles, Aurelio talked us through the various Garifuna rhythms as he led a spirited performance of rich percussion, mesmerizing dance and beautiful song.
A surprise highlight of the evening was a visit from the inimitable Youssou N'Dour who has been a mentor to Aurelio through the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. Youssou personally selected Aurelio as his protégé in 2009, and the result of their collaborations has been an inspiring exploration of Africa and the Americas, culminating in Aurelio's new album Laru Beya (due for release in January 2011).
|Youssou and Aurelio|
|Youssou and Banning Eyre|
Following in the footsteps of Andy Palacio, whose album Wátina brought about a revival of Garifuna music, Aurelio has placed traditional Garifuna rhythms at the heart of each song on his new album. Through his music, Aurelio tells the story of the Garifuna people whose history dates back to the mingling of Arawak, Carib and African peoples after a ship on the Middle Passage from West Africa got wrecked off the coast of St Vincent. Whilst drawing on traditional refrains, Aurelio is decidedly innovative with his music; the strength of the roots allows the tree to grow upwards and outwards. Aurelio also draws some African giants into the picture: Youssou N'Dour brings his soaring vocals into play on several songs and Orchestra Baobab's distinctive synthesis of Wolof, Mande and Cuban sounds adds to the happy melding of cultures.
Youssou has also inspired Martinez with his unwavering commitment to humanitarian causes. Martinez, who was the first person from the Garifuna community, and indeed the first person of African descent, to be elected to the Honduran National Congress, has made it his focus to preserve the culture of his ancestors. UNESCO has highlighted the need to preserve the Garifuna culture and Aurelio is all too aware of the challenges facing the community. There are no schools that teach the Garifuna culture; he himself had no education in Garifuna culture or music. A lack of money and support means that those who do dedicate themselves to developing the culture often have to abandon their arts in order to be able to provide for themselves and their families. Aurelio hopes that with his considerable political and artistic influence, he can help to remedy this situation through the Sol Garifuna Foundation. The foundation aims to improve the quality of life for Garifuna populations by promoting social and educational messages through music and by raising funds for the communities around Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatamala and Belize. Aurelio also wants to build schools that will teach the culture and the music, making sure that this unique culture continues to grow and develop into the future.
The Sol Garifuna Foundation has had a worthy cause of late: raising funds for the families of those who tragically lost their lives in a traffic accident in Honduras earlier this year. Amongst the victims were several Garifuna musicians from the bands 'Chicas Sambat' and 'Kazzabe'. In their memory, Aurelio has joined with Chris Theberge to produce a special tribute song. “Tributo” features a wealth of remarkable musicians, including a special guest appearance by Puerto Rican percussion legend Giovanni Hidalgo.
|Aurelio and Youssou listening to "Tributo" in the studio|
“Tributo” was the first song to be recorded at Theberge Music Works; may it bode well for the foundation and the studio. We are thrilled about both!
“Tributo” is available to download from itunes: http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/tributo-single/id403046800
All proceeds go to the Sol Garifuna Foundation.
|Aurelio and Chris|
Media Production by Erich Woodrum