Real World Records / StoneTree
Review by Michael Stone
Comp: Paul Nabor
Aurelio Martínez is arguably Central America's most gifted and vibrant musical talent, a key tradition bearer of one the most threatened cultures of the isthmus, the African-Amerindian Garifuna people. Apprenticed from an early age to his cultural elders, later a collaborator of Garifuna masters Paul “Nabi” Nabor (1928–2014) and Andy Palacio (1960–2008), Aurelio is the foremost champion of the music, dance and language traditions proclaimed by UNESCO to be among the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
With its emphasis on vocal artistry, polyrhythmic complexity and dense percussive base, Garifuna music speaks across the African diaspora to its Central American, Caribbean and Latin America counterparts, rooted in the sacred ancestor spirit-possession drumming, song and dance genres of the ritual dügü, consonant with analogues in Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and elsewhere.
Aurelio is acutely attuned to the precarious condition of minority peoples in Central America and beyond, expressed through both his music and his civic and political engagement. Notably, before committing his energies solely to music and cultural advocacy, he also served as the first elected minority representative to the Honduran Congress from the economically underdeveloped Atlántida region, underscoring the respect he has earned as a cultural spokesperson at home and across Caribbean Central America.
Yet Aurelio's outlook is equally cosmopolitan, informed by three decades of touring and recording in Europe, Japan, Latin America and North America. Organically rooted and non-derivative, his work evinces an erudite knowledge of global music, principally its West African affinity, a passion expressed as well in teaching Garifuna youth in Central America and New York, his second home.
Aurelio's focus on the diasporic kinship between Garifuna and West African forms infuses his artistry, as it does the cultural pride and historical consciousness of his people. Hence, as a 2008 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative recipient, he devoted a year to creative engagement with his designated collaborator, Senegal's Youssou N'Dour (as heard on his 2011 release Laru Beya).
A mature expression of Aurelio's decades-long sojourn, Darandi is a definitive rendering of some of his most compelling original and traditional Garifuna material, in a new recording made live at Real World Studios in England. Backing Aurelio's keening lead vocals, acoustic guitar and percussion work are Garifuna vocal conjurers Desiree Diego and Chela Torres, with electric guitarist extraordinaire Guayo Cedeño, electric bassist Emilio Alvarez, and Onan Castillo and Joel Martínez on the driving Garifuna primera and segunda drums.
Produced by Aurelio with longtime partners Alejandro Colinas and Ivan Duran, the CD comes in a vividly illustrated, annotated hardcover booklet. For those arriving late to this cultural celebration like no other, Darandi is a splendid introduction to the vital, authentic humanity and will to survive expressed through Garifuna music today. - Michael Stone