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Belize: Andy Palacio, 1960-2008

Andy Palacio in Belize. Photo: Marco Werman.

Editor's Note: We were saddened to learn of the sudden death last weekend of Andy Palacio, a wonderful singer and bandleader from Belize who spread his beloved Garifuna music around the world. Our music reporter, Marco Werman, had interviewed Palacio for our January 2004 FRONTLINE/World story, "The Exile's Song," and we sampled his songs on our Web site.

Palacio, only 47, died of a heart attack in Belize on January 19. As a tribute, we've put together a collection of video and story links (below) about his artistry and his legacy of reviving the music of the Garifuna people, whose ancestors were brought as slaves from West Africa to the Caribbean. A musical ambassador, Palacio was named UNESCO Artist for Peace in November 2007 and many critics considered his album "Watina" to be the best World Music release of 2007.

A musical ambassador, Palacio was named UNESCO Artist for Peace in November 2007 and many critics considered his album "Watina" to be the best World Music release of 2007.

Andy Palacio: An Appreciation
PRI The World's music editor Marco Werman shares memories of interviewing Palacio and seeing him perform live, and sums up his profound influence on World Music.

Here's what Marco sent us in email about Palacio....

I didn't know Andy Palacio as well as some people, but I think I knew him better than most. The week I spent in Belize in November of 2003 came as a result of sitting with Andy several times at the World Music Expo in Europe and listening to him spin tales of the Garifuna. He often came to WOMEX with Ivan Duran, the man who essentially became his George Martin. Andy and Ivan once brought a case of small bottles of Marie Sharp's hot sauce to give away as swag. After Andy and Garifuna music, Marie Sharp's may be one of Belize's best known exports. I'm in love with the stuff, and Andy kept encouraging me to take more of it, excited that I was excited. When I went to Belize for FRONTLINE/World I got to see Andy in his element.

Andy Palacio was simply one of the kindest and most humane artists I've ever met in the often ego-driven music business.

It was Settlement Day 2003, November 19 on the Garifuna calendar. It's the day that the Garifuna commemorate their arrival on the shores of Central America after being exiled by the British in St. Vincent. That was in 1823, and just 500 Garifuna landed in Belize. The numbers of Garifuna have certainly grown. But Settlement Day is still a poignant moment for the Garifuna since it reminds them that their numbers are still small, and that it's only individuals acting on their own accord that will keep the past from drifting away from them.

Andy had played a gig in the capital Belize City the night before, and then drove downcountry to the coast town of Dangriga, the mother lode of Garifuna culture. He arrived late, and had to get straight up on stage to play his set for Punta Fest. That concert featuring musicians rooted in various idioms of Garifuna music was an Andy initiative to a large degree. The crowd pressed up against the stage, and people were sparring to claim a few square inches of ground on which they could dance. It was a delightful mix of the crowd wanting to move to Andy's music, but trying to catch a glimpse of Andy sing and dance at the same time.

When his show ended around one in the morning, Andy slipped off and prepared for his part in the Settlement Day festivities just hours away. There are reenactments of the boats coming ashore, there are usually several sunrise church services and other more secret rituals, and there are parades through the streets. Andy was in demand at many of these events. We had scheduled a proper sit down interview after all of these activities for the early afternoon. Andy probably hadn't slept for more than 36 hours, but he was chipper and energized from Settlement Day. It was proof to him that Garifuna culture was alive.

He could have gone to sleep, but in that moment, the only thing he wanted to do was to speak with an American journalist about the Garifuna people and his personal quest to preserve their culture.

It wasn't the promise of good publicity for Garifuna music that drove Andy Palacio. As an artist, Andy was not a prima donna. He was the exact opposite. He tapped deeply into his own circle of musicians to raise them all. Andy was self-effacing and gentle. Andy Palacio was simply one of the kindest and most humane artists I've ever met in the often ego-driven music business. -- Marco Werman

Belize: The Exile's Song
Over the course of 400 years, the Garifuna people of Central America's Caribbean coast have evolved a musical tradition that blends the African rhythms of their ancestors with indigenous instrumentation. In our broadcast story from 2004, PRI The World's reporter Marco Werman went to Belize to see how Garifuna music is being kept alive by a new generation.

The Ambassador of Punta Rock: Andy Palacio
From the same 2004 broadcast, sample music of the Garifuna, including Palacio's infectious "Gimme Punta Rock," chosen by Ivan Duran, a Belizean record producer and founder of Stonetree Records.

The New York Times: Andy Palacio, Who Saved Garifuna Music, Dies at 47
Jon Pareles pays tribute to Palacio and the musical legacy he leaves behind.

Notes from the Barn
This blog about Palacio set up by his record label Cumbancha reports that after Palacio's death last weekend, the BBC has preannounced that he is the recipient of the Americas category of the BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music.

Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective
Read the many personal messages left by fans on Palacio's myspace page. "We will miss you Andy, your voice, words, spirit, and your talent. You have made Belize proud." -- Edlene, Jan. 21st, 2008

Palacio's Memorable Speech at the 2007 WOMEX Music Expo
In an acceptance speech for the prestigious WOMEX Award at the 2007 World Music expo, Palacio spoke of the unifying strength of music. "I see this award not so much as a personal endorsement but in fact as an extraordinary and sincere validation of a concept in which artists such as myself take up the challenge to make music with a higher purpose that goes beyond simple entertainment. I accept this award on behalf of my fellow artists from all over the world with the hope that it will serve to reinforce those sentiments that fuel cultures of resistance and pride in one's own."

Watina: A Look Behind the Music of Andy Palacio
This YouTube video shows some of the traditions behind the Garifuna and their music, including drum-making on the island of Honduras. Palacio narrates with clips from studio recordings of his acclaimed CD, "Watina."


vincent lynch - oajland, california

I just wanted to share this message from Ivan and Jacob posted on Andy's myspace page. Dear all: Words can't express the sorrow we feel at the loss of such a tremendous person and artist. Please pass this information on to the countless people around the world who have been impacted by Andy's music and message. Feel free to post this announcement to your email lists or blogs, as we want to make sure that everyone who knows Andy or his music are aware of what has happened. In the Garifuna culture the death of a loved one is an opportunity to celebrate their memory and rejoice in having been blessed to have had them in your life. We feel so fortunate to have known this incredible individual and we mourn the loss of truly great man. In an interview conducted last July, Andy was asked how he wanted to be remembered when he died. He replied, "As a proud Garifuna...someone who instills pride in Garifuna and raises their self-esteem. To me, that's the most important thing." This was already the case while he was alive, and we're certain it will only be more true in the future. Sincerely,
Ivan Duran and Jacob Edgar

Zach Behar - NY, NY
The world of music is a sadder place with the loss of Andy. His passion and humility and pure heart are qualities so missing in this often venal business. Thanks for posting these tributes and recognizing his work and his sweet soul.

Darwin Blanco - Houston, Texas
If I can grow into being half the man Andy was in representation of my people the Garifunas, I'll be a great man. Thanks to God for this child that has become a man that lead his people.