Garifuna Popular Music “Renewed”: Authenticity, Tradition, and Belonging in Garifuna

For almost thirty years, the electronically driven dance music punta rock remained the only popular music genre indigenous to the Garifuna, an African-Amerindian group based along Central America’s Caribbean coast with U.S. diasporic communities. In 2007, however, a new genre ushered in by the award-winning album W�tina (I Called Out) by Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective effectively displaced punta rock as the musical icon of Garifuna identity and modernity to the outside world and attained much broader appeal. What I term Garifuna World Music (GWM) arose from the vision of Belizean producer Ivan Duran and Belizean Garifuna punta rock star Palacio to import the acoustic and reflective emphases of traditional music into the commercial realm in order to promote cultural and linguistic preservation internationally. However, they also conceived the genre as a means for securing Garifuna music a foothold within the world music industry, presenting a sustainable music career as a viable option for Garifuna musicians for the first time. Periodic tourist witnessing of secular traditional song-dance performances has long been a component of community life, yet the effects of musically dovetailing tradition with Euro-Anglo cosmopolitan desires are newly felt.

This dissertation considers GWM as a nexus between these desires and assertions of cultural identity. Supported by fieldwork undertaken in Belize and Guatemala, I combine ethnography, historiography, and musical analysis not only to examine the multiple hybridities of Garifuna culture as they manifest in Garifuna popular music genres but also their interactions with the state of the millennial world music industry. Specifically, I ask “What was the work of GWM intended to do?” and, in turn, “What is the work actually doing?”

While GWM performs industry notions of “authenticity,” rooted in esteem granted to activism, African heritage, nostalgia, and exemplarity, many punta rock musicians in Belizean Garifuna communities today consider it “authentic” for a different reason: its adoption of traditional music practices, especially those of an acoustic guitar-based men’s genre called paranda, as the starting point for new compositions. Although envisioned and promulgated by a small group, and commercially lucrative for just as few, GWM has generated both local and diasporic pride and provided a means by which young Garifuna men can translate the ethos of their elders into the language of their own highly mediated experiences.