Indeed, the 2007 Three Kings documentary by Katia Paradis - set Peters, Nabor and Mes on a pedestal - and now two of them, Peters and Nabor are gone.
If Naguya Nei thought us how to sing with Nabor, The Three Kings taught us how to love him. The documentary captured his remarkable musical career and the sacred moments in his life as well as the joy that he spread through his music and simply: his presence. With the permission of the film-maker, Here are a few classic clips from that documentary.
Farewell Paul Nabor: A Belize Music Legend
Belize lost a national treasure and we farewelled a wonderful friend this week with the passing of Paul Nabor, Garifuna parandero extraordinaire and one of the best cultural ambassadors Belize ever had.
Born in January 1928, Paul, known as Nabi to his many friends, packed more into his 86 years than most people get to experience in ten lifetimes, from growing up in a simple Garifuna village to captivating audiences the world over with his deeply soulful Paranda songs and a humanism that cut across all societal and cultural boundaries. Whether in Belize City, New York, Europe or Malaysia, Mr Nabor, often wearing a large cowboy hat, would appear on stage and within seconds have any audience, anywhere, in the palm of his hand. There was something about him…
Nabi was a musician, songwriter, a Garifuna Buyei, or healer, herbalist, sailor, craftsman, pugilist (the name Nabor comes from his boxing days), valued elder, and much more. Up to the end of his life he continued to fill his days fishing from dawn in a dugout dory he built himself, singing and playing his guitar and providing spiritual comfort and physical healing to the many people who sought him out at his temple in the Southern Belize town of Punta Gorda.
We’d sit for hours as Nabi recounted stories from an amazing life; being caught out at sea in gales and drifting for days, working in dense jungles, surviving jail in Guatemala, knocking down much bigger opponents in the ring, teaching himself guitar and playing villages and towns up and down the coast of Belize, Guatemala and Honduras before becoming recognised and playing to large audiences around the world.
He built his own homes, boats and instruments with hands that were rough and scarred but could still gently caress and create exquisite melodies on guitar.
Whatever Nabi did, he did with a grace and inimitable style that was all his own, and with a legendary strength combined with gentleness and hard won wisdom he was happy to share. He lived life to the fullest, and gave back in innumerable ways. Words can’t describe how much he was loved, and how much he’ll be missed.
But his music will be with us for a long time, and his legend and impact will only continue to grow in stature.
Just as with fellow Garifuna musician Andy Palacio, who preceded Nabi in passing, and with whom he played, recorded and toured, Paul Nabor changed Belizean music and brought it to a large international audience.
Along the way, he inspired countless Garifuna youths to pursue their dreams and celebrate their culture.
Paul died peacefully of natural causes, and will be honoured by the government and people of Belize with an official funeral next week.
Paul Nabor: on the passing of a national treasure
Michael Stone looks back on the life of Nabi.
Garifuna singer and Belizean national cultural treasure Paul Nabor (January 26, 1928—October 22, 2014) died on 22 October 2014 at the Punta Gorda town hospital. Nabor had been hospitalized in January 2014 for pneumonia and dehydration, had been in poor health for some time, and on October 12 suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed.
From the coastal village of Barranco, Toledo District, Belize, Paul Nabor (born Alfonso Palacio) or “Nabi” was best known as a singer and writer of Garifuna paranda songs, a ballad form accompanied on guitar and percussion. Like many Garifuna men, forced by socioeconomic circumstance to migrate in search of work, Nabor lived his life between Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Nabor had been a boxer in his younger years (his assumed name comes from his days as a pugilist). At home in Belize, Nabi was a fisherman, sailor (in his hand-built dory), traditional farmer, herbalist, and Garifuna buyei or priest and spirit medium, presiding at dügü rituals at his dabuyaba or Garifuna temple. Spanish-Canadian filmmaker Katia Paradis' award-winning documentary Three Kings of Belize (Amazone Films 2007 - see below) offers a touching portrait of Nabor, along with brukdown accordion king (Wilfred) “Mr. Peters” and Maya traditionalist Florencio Mess, two fellow masters of Belizean roots music.
When singer Andy Palacio was recording Keimoun (1995), producer Ivan Duran asked him about the origin of one of the songs. Palacio responded that is was by uncle, Paul Nabor. Duran asked to meet Nabor, the genesis of his recording career, beginning at age of 71 with the Stonetree Records documentary compilation Paranda: Africa in Central America (1999), and subsequently with the Garifuna Collective.
Recognizable for his signature head scarf and oversize cowboy hat, Nabor was feted as a Distinguished Guest by the Government of Honduras when he visited Tegucigalpa in 2006 for the release of Aurelio Martínez's Garifuna Soul. Nabor was honored on the steps of New York City Hall in 2008 with a proclamation by the NY State Senate. He also was the recipient of the Government of Belize's Tribute to Belizean Patriots (2011), the Order of Distinction (2004), and the Meritorious Service Award (2004). In 2011 the Government of Belize granted him a pension “In Honor of His Lifetime Contribution to World Music.”
At press time, the Belizean National Institute of Culture and History announced that the Government of Belize will honor Nabor with an official funeral. He is survived by his only daughter, Marie Santino Martínez, his grandson David Lino, and Lino's wife, Linda Barrow.
"Naguya Nei" (I Am Moving On)
Nabor wrote “Naguya Nei” when his sister was on her deathbed. Nabor's funeral procession will sing the song at his memorial service. As Nabor remarked in Three Kings of Belize, “I told all my family, when I die and go to my grave, you put this guitar inside with me.”
We've learned a lot about Paul Nabor this week and through the film The Three Kings many of us already knew a lot about him. But, still, the man is an enigma - and that's because he's a bundle of contradictions: great global fame matched up against great humility; great talent but precious few recordings…and the list goes on.
Yesterday we spoke to his great friend Michale Norales from Punta Gorda by way of Dangriga. Along with Darius Avila, he set up the Paul Nabor Birthday concert every January - and yesterday he reminisced with us about some of the little known things about Paul Nabor. Ivan Duran who toured all over the world with Nabor also chipped in with some reminiscences:…
Belizean Artists at Tribute to Paul Nabor
It has not even been a week since the news broke across the land that Paul Nabor had died in Punta Gorda. On hearing of his passing my initial thoughts were of Nabor the man, and the way he existed in this world.
The thoughts in my head flowed to the pace of Adrian “the doc” Martinez’s Baba. Then my mind drifted to Santiago Cal’s iconic image of Nabor off the coast of Pene his hometown in a dory. It is a black and white image. The man and the sea.
What is it about hearing of death that realigns the soul? Andy Palacio’s Lidan Aban (Together) played in my heart as I tried to reignite the special moments. Three more images rushed in – Paul in Malaysia with his big hat, Paul and Andy arms stretched in unity on the stage at the re-opening of the Bliss in 2004 and of course the rainy night in Belize City at the Brodies parking lot when Paul danced on stage in front of thousands in 2007.
So now in 2014 I try to harness the sequence of ideas and thoughts that I have about the man Nabor. From my friend Dr. Joe Palacio I learnt that Paul, born Alfonso Palacio, worked as a young man at sawmills in southern Belize. He was also a chiclero, and a fisherman. And like many young men of his time “he migrated to Guatemala and Honduras where he could get jobs with the fruit companies and his fish could fetch more cash. When he was in Guatemala and Honduras he became more serious about his music, singing and playing the guitar with groups or by himself. From early in life he had a special liking for Paranda music. He became a spirit medium (ébu) in Garifuna, which enabled him to be an effective healer throughout Punta Gorda and other parts of southern Belize. As a spiritual healer, Paul had to shed many of his earlier ‘bad boy’ ways. He also became more serious about his special gifts as a musician.” (from email by Dr. Joseph Palacio)
Last Saturday I had the opportunity to speak to almost 400 young High School leaders inside the Art Centre of St. John’s College. The topic was leadership. I used the example of Paul Nabor as a true leader. When I asked the students if they ever heard of Paul Nabor, most of them raised their hands. These were students from schools across Belize. I explained to them that for me Paul was a leader because he led by the example of his life – humble, passionate, engaged, and conscious. He was a man that paid attention to the temperature of his thoughts, a man who reflected on the community and most importantly he acted with his music.
It is easy to understand how Nabor entered our consciousness and never left. In 2000 Stonetree released the album Paranda. It started as far back in 1995 when Ivan Duran and Gil Abarbanel travelled across Belize, Honduras and Guatemala to record the style of music we now know as Paranda (which means to revel). Many of the recordings were made inside thatch buildings. Nabor’s song Naguya Nei became an instant classic.
In 2000 UNESCO recognized the Garifuna Culture as a masterpiece of humanity. Nabor the man is an example of this masterpiece – oral and intangible.
In 2009 the filmmaker Katia Paradis released Three Kings of Belize featuring Paul Nabor, Wilfred Peters and Florencio Mes. For me this film represents an important part of our DNA of artistic life in the 20th century. It illustrates how art cannot be segregated from life.
We live in the 21st century where technology has enveloped our lives. Nabor’s life and art proves to us that the time to create is every day. Not to create as an artist or idea of artist, but to make art as a chiclero, as a fisherman, and as a human. My friend Joan Duran describes the orbit of Nabor’s life as a solar panel. What we see and hear in his music is brought to us with technology yes, but the source and the power of the music comes from the sun. Nabor is that sun.
Saturday, Nov 1st, 2014 | St. Peter Claver Church |Punta Gorda | Belize by Yasser Musa
In preparation for this moment I tried to consult widely with friends, students, artists, poets, musicians, anthropologists, producers and journalists on the essence of the man we artistically call Nabi…
I begin with two episodes at international airports as told to me by Ivan Duran who accompanied Nabi…
At the Miami Airport the Immigration officer asks, “what are you doing here?” and Nabi answers, “If you don’t want me here you can send me right back home”
In Houston another officer asks Nabi “what do you do?” and he answers “I sing” and she says: “would you sing me a song?” he sings the first line of Naguya Nei, I still remember her eyes, she looked at me and said:
“Can I take him home with me?” she had fallen in love with Nabor…
Nabi When you open your arms Waves crash into the coast You knew How to get people happy
Via youTUBE I watch you and Andy in Rotterdam, Dance like a dandy In Stern Grove, San Francisco Like the Howlin Wolf of the Mississippi delta Like a Black Seminole
Your voice From the first moment you hear it Penetrates the heart You knew How to get people happy
Gulisi was only 13 when she escaped near genocide You are her child You are the solar panel of the early 21st century The vigour of your aching hands strum acoustic honey You recorded less than 10 songs So what are we to hold on to? Lyrics, which evoke nostalgic longing?
No, it can’t be just that We want more And the children deserve more They deserve to know you too
You the sawmill worker The chiclero The fisherman The spirit medium – ébu
You the migrant fruit company worker The songwriter The Parandero A voice so unforgettable So magical Umalali Sensual and stirring
Nabi I know that the temperature of your larynx Has its’ origins Inside a Saharan rock gong thousands of years fermenting Spiced and marinated with water of Orinoco Your voice is a drought and a deluge It is African, Amerindian, Garifuna, Belizean It is a cry of anguish a sultry seductive love making under thatched moon
Nabi In the twilight You took to the world stage Educating younger artists In the pedagogy of proceeding You didn’t need to go You did it for them Always ready to help Showing that art is not about glory But about how to live
Nabi You are the oral and intangible You sit in contemplation on a flight from Malaysia In silence in your dory off the seashore of Pene So that songs could swirl A fever in your skin
Nabi The awakening is just that You taught us it is never too late To begin now To get up And speak creativity to the world
Nabi You led a cultural resistance against The sterilization of our minds You put salt back in our eyes So we could recognize ourselves
Nabi You are king Not king of the Grammy But king of gratitude King of your temple Of the spirit
King of curiosity
Every time you left the stage You would say,
Brado, Brado did I make it…did I make it?
Yes you did Yes you did
Yündüya Weyu (The Sun Has Set) Landini (landing) Ayó Da Nabi (goodbye father Nabor) Ayó… (goodbye)