A Belizean musician and icon passes at 47. Our Belize Community celebrates the life of a Garifuna musician whose music, life and soul touched the world.
As a young child, one always dreams of being a famous musician; singing in front of thousands, recording an album and traveling around the world with the songs that took you years to create. Yes, oh yes, one always dreams of having the #1 record in the World. Imagine lifting up the name of Belize much higher than many have attempted to and only few have achieved. Being known for an ambassador of culture, being recognized by UNESCO to the point of receiving a Nobel Prize for peace, a feat desired by millions but received by only a few. The culture, traditions and music of one people, at the verge of extinction being brought back to life with a powerful intensity could certainly not be done by many. Accomplishing one of these amazing deeds is difficult at best for any one of us, accomplishing all of these was the great work of a true Belize legend, a star whose fire was extinguished too soon – Andy Vivien Palacio.
|Andy Palacio made a big impression in his native Belize with his humility and beautiful soul, which transcended beyond the success of his music, and made him simply a true son of the soil, and a proud Garifuna.
|Breaking news received on January 22nd 2008 was that the late Andy Palacio is the winner of the Americas category in the 2008 BBC Radio 3 Awards For World Music. After being told in December of his win, Andy was sworn to secrecy until the revelation at the award ceremony planned for April 2008, where he was scheduled to perform at the ceremony in London after receiving his award. Due to his untimely and tragic death, however, the BBC Radio 3 Awards For World Music decided it would be most appropriate to release the information.
Andy was born in the small coastal village of Barranco in the Toledo District of Belize, Central America. He was born on December 2nd, 1960 to parents Ruben Palacio and Cleofa Avilez. As a young child and through his teen years, he grew up enjoying traditional Garifuna music, as well as, imported sounds coming through the various radio waves; music coming from Honduras, Guatemala, the Caribbean and, of course, the United States of America.
While in high school, Andy joined local bands entertaining crowds all over Barranco and neighboring villages and towns. He started performing covers of popular Caribbean and Top 40 songs and so developing his own voice. “Music was always a part of daily life,” Andy commented, “It was the soundtrack that we lived to.”
Andy knew he wanted to inspire people and began his first years of inspiration as a teacher at Toledo Community College. He eventually started working for a literacy project and while conducting that work in 1980 he had to travel from Belize to Nicaragua. Being a proud Garifuna, Andy was told that his unique culture1was on the verge of extinction. As such and as part of a campaign, he was traveling en route to the village of Orinoco in Nicaragua when a storm forced his boat on a different direction. His captain steered them to a nearby village to await the passing of the storm and told Andy, “There is a Garifuna man in this village. You should talk in your language and see how he reacts.” Mr. Lopez was the name of the old man, the one Andy greeted in Garifuna. Disbelief was the only thing that the man felt, “Are you telling the truth,” he asked Andy. To which he replied, “Yes, my uncle; I am Garifuna just like you.” So happy was Mr. Lopez that he embraced Andy and refused to let him go. “He could not believe a man so young could speak Garifuna, having imagined the language would perish with him,” he stated. Andy continued explaining, “From that day I realized that what was happening in Nicaragua, the disappearance of Garifuna culture, foreshadowed what was going to happen in Belize less than a generation down the road. I decided to follow my passion and focus more on performing Garifuna music as a way to keep the traditions alive long into the future. 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.”
Soon after returning to Belize, Andy 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.
Upon his return from England with new skills and a four track recording system, Andy 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 helped earn him worldwide recognition.
Andy 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. Recorded in Belize and Havana, Keimoun, released in 1995 featured some of Andy’s most famous Punta Rock and Paranda hits, superbly arranged by Yadam Gonzales and impeccably performed by some of the best Cuban instrumentalists and master Belizean percussionists and singers. The result was a lush, beautiful and exotic album which continues to stand the test of time. In 1996, Til de Mawnin followed shortly after. During this time, he also traveled widely promoting and performing his music.
Not only did he control the radio waves but Andy also traveled to the television screen when he 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.
Eight years in the making and his best work released in early 2007 came when Andy stripped his music of the electronics and recorded “Watina,” which mixed acoustic and electric instruments in a way that remained true to traditional Garifuna music. The album title is a social commentary; “Watina” translates as “I call out” and explores themes of pain, beauty and survival.
Watina 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.
In October 1st, 2007, United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) honored Andy as Artist for Peace and also won the prestigious WOMEX Award. Wátina was also nominated for the BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards. With the fabulous international musical accolades, Andy made a big impression at home in Belize, the international success of Wátina has sparked a revival of Garifuna music, as young musicians have become inspired by Andy’s example.
Continued down pouring of international rave reviews met Andy feeling ill on January 10th, 2008 when he complained of loss of vision. On Tuesday the 15th, he was at his home in Santa Elena when he had a major complication - most likely a heart attack or a stroke.
After that, he was admitted for treatment on Wednesday the 16th, and by Thursday, he was no longer responsive and that’s when the decision was made to fly him out to the University of Chicago Medical Center. He never made it there and after medical intervention in Mobile Alabama, doctors agreed that nothing much could be done to save the life of Andy. He was returned to Belize on January 25th and on Saturday he passed away at 9:05 p.m.
His life journey was a magical one filled with love, hope and pride. Love for his family, the people of Belize, his culture and the world; hope for the revival of his beloved Garifuna; and pride for his grass roots, his ancestors, his legacy. He is survived by his mother Cleofa Avilez, his brother, Oswald Lopez; his sister, Jacinta Palacio; his children, Kami, Uani, Nita, Tara, Kamou; and two granddaughters. Andy Palacio is our legacy, pride and the legend within “Our Belize Community” and the rest of the world.
The Garifuna culture is based on the Caribbean coast of Central America blending elements of West Africa and the Native Caribbean.