Andy Palacio was one of the most interesting musicians I’ve spoken to. I was interested in his Central American culture and people, the Garifuna, because I previously traveled to Honduras and Belize several times. The Garifuna are an indigenous minority, the descendants of African slaves who were shipwrecked in the Caribbean and intermarried with local Indians.
Less than a year after I last spoke to him in 2007, Palacio suddenly died. He was 47. His band, the Garifuna Collective, had recently released “Watina,” an album that reached No. 1 on several world music charts. One organization recognized him and producer Ivan Duran (who runs Stonetree Records, Belize’s only recording studio) for creating the best world music album of all time to that point).
The Garifuna Collective carried on and has two new albums, “Ayo” and “Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me,” an English language collaboration with Canadian singer-songwriter Danny Michel. Michel is a frequent snowbird visitor to Belize and even established a scholarship fund to help provide educational opportunities for local children. He wanted to record with the Garifuna Collective and “wasn’t looking for normal session musicians,” Duran told me recently. “He just wanted us to be ourselves. The result was a very natural one.”
“Ayo” means “goodbye.” Is that a message for Andy?
Ivan Duran: It’s saying goodbye to Andy, and in a way, the whole album is a tribute to Andy. It’s the Collective saying goodbye, and at the same time, saying that we’re moving on. We’re showing the world exactly what Andy was saying every time he walked to a mic. He said, “There is a lot more to where I come from.” Andy had this amazing personality. He never made it about himself. That’s why he was so loved in Belize. He always brought attention to the bigger picture. That’s what we’re trying to prove now: That there’s a rich pool of artists that are ready to stand up and continue the work that Andy started.
On the “Watina” tour, some of the musicians had never been outside of their country before. How is this time different for them?
Everybody has done several tours between “Watina” and this one. One of the things that I noticed (is) everybody has really grown up to the challenge that they’re now a band. They’re not just backing up a lead singer. It feels… like a tight group of people with a common goal.
What do you call the English-langage Garifuna music you have made with Danny Michel?
I wish I would good with names; I would put a name on it. We just injected a certain vibe. It’s more grounded than if it would have been recorded in a high-tech studio in Toronto. The way we record records in Belize is very, very different from the way they are done in North America. We are a lot more careless when we’re recording. A lot of noise gets into our records, and we love it. We capture things much more spontaneously. In the studio, our mics are open. I remember Danny being very worried in the beginning. Once he realized we knew what we were doing, he became much more relaxed, and that’s when things started to gel. We don’t stress about things in Belize. We are very relaxed about making music, and I hope that somehow translates to the speakers, to the people listening to the albums.
Will you play songs from “Watina” at the show?
The whole set is half of “Watina” and half of the new album. They play all 10 songs (off “Black Birds Are Dancing Over Me”).
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.