ANDY PALACIO’S BIOGRAPHY
Andy Palacio was not only the most popular musician in Belize, he was also a serious music and cultural activist with a deep commitment to preserving his unique Garifuna culture. Long a leading proponent of Garifuna popular music and a tireless advocate for the maintenance of the Garifuna language and traditions, Palacio recently achieved international acclaim for his work as a recording and performing artist thanks to the critical success of his early 2007 album Wåtina.
Andy Vivien Palacio was born in the small coastal village of Barranco, Belize on December 2, 1960. Palacio grew up listening to traditional Garifuna music as well as imported sounds coming over the radio from neighboring Honduras, Guatemala, the Caribbean and the United States. “Music was always a part of daily life,” said Palacio, “It was the soundtrack that we lived to.” Along with some of his peers, he joined local bands even while in high school and began developing his own voice, performing covers of popular Caribbean and Top 40 songs.
However, it was while working with a literacy project on Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast in 1980 and discovering that the Garifuna language and culture was steadily dying in that country, that a strong cultural awareness took hold and his approach to music became more defined. “I saw what had happened to my people in Nicaragua. The cultural erosion I saw there deeply affected my outlook,” he said in late 2006, “and I definitely had to react to that reality.” His reaction took the form of diving deeper into the language and rhythms of the Garifuna, a unique cultural blend of West African and Indigenous Carib and Arawak Indian language and heritage. “It was a conscious strategy. I felt that music was an excellent medium to preserve the culture. I saw it as a way of maintaining cultural pride and self esteem, especially in young people.”
Palacio became a leading figure in a growing renaissance of young Garifuna intellectuals who were writing poetry and songs in their native language. He saw the emergence of an upbeat, popular dance form based on Garifuna rhythms that became known as punta rock and enthusiastically took part in developing the form. Andy began performing his own songs and gained stature as a musician and energetic Garifuna artist. In 1987, he was able to hone his skills after being invited to work in England with Cultural Partnerships Limited, a community arts organization. Returning home to Belize with new skills and a four track recording system, he helped found Sunrise, an organization dedicated to preserving, documenting and distributing Belizean music. While his academic background and self-scholarship allowed for his on-going documentation of Garifuna culture through lyrics and music, it is his exuberance as a performer that has helped earn him worldwide recognition.
Palacio also brought his passion for Garifuna culture into the public sector. In December 2004, Palacio was appointed Cultural Ambassador and Deputy Administrator of the National Institute of Culture and History of Belize.
About five years ago, Belizean producer Ivan Duran, Palacio’s longtime collaborator and founder of the local label Stonetree Records, convinced Palacio that he should focus on less commercial forms of Garifuna music and look more deeply into its soul and roots. Duran and Palacio set out to create an all-star, multi-generational ensemble of some of the best Garifuna musicians from Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. The Garifuna Collective unites elder statesmen such as legendary Garifuna composer Paul Nabor, with up-and-coming voices of the new generation such as Aurelio Martinez from Honduras and Adrien Martinez from Belize. Rather then focusing solely on danceable styles like punta rock, the Collective explores the more soulful side of Garifuna music, such as the Latin-influenced paranda, and the sacred dügü, punta and gunjei rhythms.
Palacio and Duran embarked on the production of Wátina, an album that would come to redefine modern Garifuna music and become one of the most critically-acclaimed world music releases of 2007. The initial recording sessions for this exceptional album took place over a 4-month period in an improvised studio inside a thatch-roofed cabin by the sea in the small village of Hopkins, Belize. It was an informal environment, where the musicians spent many hours playing together late into the night, honing the arrangements of the songs that would eventually end up on this album. While the traditions provided the inspiration, the musicians also added contemporary elements that helped give the songs relevance to their modern context. After the sessions, Ivan Duran worked tirelessly back at his studio to craft what is surely the pinnacle of Garifuna music production to date.
Wátina, which was released at the beginning of 2007, became one of the most critically acclaimed recordings of the year in any genre. Perhaps the most unanimously revered world music album in recent memory, Wátina appeared on dozens of Best of the Year lists in major media outlets around the globe and was roundly praised in glowing terms. These best-of lists put an exclamation point on what had been an incredible year for Andy Palacio and the worldwide recognition of Garifuna music. In November, 2007, Palacio became the first Caribbean and Central American artist to be designated a UNESCO Artist for Peace. He received the prestigious WOMEX Award in October, 2007 which was co-awarded to Ivan Duran. In September, 2007 Palacio was conferred the Order of Meritorious Service by the Prime Minister of Belize. Wátina was also nominated for the influential BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards. At home in Belize, the international success of Wátina has sparked a revival of Garifuna music, as young musicians have become inspired by Palacio’s example.
Andy Vivian Palacio (2 December 1960 – 19 January 2008) was a Belizean Punta musician and government official. He was also a leading activist for the Garifuna people and their culture. Palacio was born and raised in the coastal village of Barranco and worked briefly as a teacher before turning to music. He received the award for "Best New Artist" at the Caribbean Music Awards in 1991, and was posthumously awarded the BBC3 Awards for World Music award in the Americas Category, in 2008. In addition to the traditional Garifuna music that he played, Palacio absorbed the diverse sounds disseminated by radio from neighboring Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Cuba, Jamaica and the United States. Palacio pursued his musical ambitions in a series of high school bands, covering a diversity of popular music from abroad. Attracted by the ideals of the Nicaraguan revolution, he joined the literacy campaign in that nation's African-Amerindian Caribbean coast region, and developed a deeper appreciation for his own threatened cultural and linguistic traditions. Those insights made their way into his own creativity, influencing him to delve more deeply into the roots of Garifuna music.
Palacio returned from Nicaragua to discover the emergence of new Garifuna pride in their culture and identity, a development dramatically expressed in the sudden popularity of punta rock, a fusion of traditional Garifuna music with electric guitar and the influences of R&B, jazz and rock and roll. The Original Turtle Shell Band, led by Belizean Garifuna musician and painter Delvin "Pen" Cayetano, burst into national consciousness in the early 1980s just as Belize gained independence. The Turtle Shell Band's invitation to perform with their mentor Isabel Flores (a legendary Garifuna percussionist and singer, now deceased) at the 1983 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival encouraged Andy Palacio to pursue a musical career.
In 1987, after Pen Cayetano turned down an invitation to work in England with Cultural Partnerships Limited, a community arts organization, Palacio stepped in. He returned to Belize six months later with professional experience, a broadened perspective, and connections that led to his involvement with the short-lived Sunrise recording project, the first effort to record, document, preserve and distribute Belizean roots music. The following year Palacio's career took off, buoyed by widely circulated cassette recordings released by Sunrise, and a string of invitations to represent Belize musically at the Festival Internacional de Cultura del Caribe (Cancun), Carifesta VI (Trinidad and Tobago), Carifesta VII (St. Kitts-Nevis), the Rainforest World Music Festival (Malaysia), the Antillanse Feesten (Belgium), the World Traditional Performing Arts Festival (Japan) and countless performances in the United States, Canada, Colombia, France, Germany and Great Britain.
Two critically acclaimed recordings on the Stonetree label, Belize's only record company, cemented Palacio's fame at home, while reinforcing his stature as the country's foremost overseas cultural ambassador. Recorded in Havana and Belize, Keimoun (1995) showcased Palacio's vocal and composition talents, enlisting first-rate Cuban and Belizean studio artists. The first CD to be produced in Belize, Keimoun put the country on the world music map, and is listed by The Rough Guide as one of 100 essential recordings from Latin America and the Caribbean. Two years later Palacio returned with Til Da Mawnin, an energetic mix of dance tunes backed by Belize's top instrumentalists and singers.
Appointed Belizean Cultural Ambassador and Deputy Administrator of the National Institute of Culture and History in 2004, Palacio devoted himself to the preservation of Garifuna music and culture. In 2007, Palacio's years of work with the Stonetree's Garifuna All-Stars project came to fruition with the release of the acclaimed Wátina album. Wátina featured a multigenerational crew of Garifuna musicians from Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras (including octegenarian singer Paul Nabor) that delved deeply into traditional Garifuna rhythms and songs. The album was a critical success that garnered worldwide attention for the Garifuna people, culture and language. Thanks to Wátina, Palacio was named a UNESCO Artist for Peace and won the prestigious WOMEX Award in 2007.
Palacio later served as a head of the National Institute of Culture and History and was named a cultural ambassador. He released over five original albums beginning with Nabi in 1990. He also traveled widely promoting and performing his music.
Palacio briefly hosted a television program on Channel 5 named after him and featuring works from Belizeans. He also wrote the theme music for Channel 5's newscast.
On 14 March 2007, Palacio released his last studio album, Wátina, which he considered his masterpiece. The album features guest appearances from other prominent Garifuna artists including Paul Nabor and was produced by Ivan Duran at Stonetree Records. On 16 January 2008, Palacio suddenly fell ill with two apparent "stroke-like seizures" at his home in San Ignacio and hospitalized in Belmopan and later Belize City. In Belize City Palacio was referred to go to Chicago for more specialized medical treatment via air ambulance, but his condition steadily deteriorated en route. While stopped to clear United States customs in Mobile, Alabama, Palacio was found unconscious and rushed to a local hospital, where his prognosis was deemed bleak. His family requested he return so he could die in his home country. According to a press release from his record label, Cumbancha, Palacio died in Belize City on 19 January of "a massive and extensive stroke to the brain, a heart attack and respiratory failure."
Fellow Belizean musician Oral Fuentes, a friend was reported as saying in response to his death: "I am indeed very sad to hear the news of Andy passing. I've known Andy for years ... as a fellow Belizean I feel the pain. Belize has indeed lost a hero."