It’s no secret we’re major fans of the unique, dynamic, vibrant and at times controversial Belizean arts scene, and for some of us, our focus is on Belizean music.
From Brukdown to Punta Rock and everything in between, Belize provides an aural smorgasbord that’s a feast for the senses. No matter the mood, from Friday-night-I-just-got-paid jump up to why’d s/he have to leave me, from the exuberant to the reflective, there’s something in the vast Belizean catalogue to suit everyone and any moment.
Just like the Blues greats such as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and Buddy Guy, Paranda musicians stir something deep inside. Paul Nabor’s Naguya Ne (I am Moving On) just seems to get more poignant and soulful with each listen, and the younger Aurelio Martinez is carrying on that soulful tradition. He’s an artist that stays true to the form yet is instantly recognisable for his own distinctive style.
So it was a pleasure to hear that the Belize Tourism Board, aka the BTB, selected one of his songs, “Santo Negro”, as the backing track for its promotional video. Great decision I thought, as I sat back, closed my eyes and savoured it again. Yes, this evokes Belize to someone who knows and loves it, and is a wonderful introduction to the country for others.
Then a few days later, with considerably less pleasure, I heard of the controversy about the selection.
Several Belizean musicians and others raised their voices to protest the selection because Aurelio was not born in Belize, and, in their opinion, therefore should not have been chosen to represent Belize.
At first, I dismissed the protests out of hand. After all, I always vaguely knew that Aurelio was born in Honduras, but it never once occurred to me that his music was anything other than Belizean. Specifically Garifuna, and just like listening to the late great Andy Palacio, Paul Nabor or the up-and-coming Garifuna Collective currently taking the world by storm, I am instantly transported to Belize when I hear him. It never occurred to me that Aurelio’s music was anything other than Belizean.
After settling down a bit and looking at it from the protestors’ point of view, I could understand them. Not agree, mind you, but understand. Music, like all art forms in Belize (and anywhere, for that matter) is a hard dollar. You got to love doing it, ‘cause you’re certainly not in it for the money. And listening to the other artists’ complaints, I could understand why they would feel the way they do.
But speaking strictly as a lover of Belizean music, and in no other context, my feelings are:
- Garifuna music knows no boundaries. Belize is the most harmonious mixture of humanity on the planet. That’s one of the most amazing, beautiful aspects of Belize, and of Belizean music. Culture and people flow across the borders of Belize, adding spice to the richness of this marvellous melting pot.
- “Santo Negro” was conceived and written in Belize
- The song was recorded and produced in Belize by a Belizean company using Belizean musicians, sound engineers and other personnel.
- Regardless of where he was born, Aurelio’s flavour is, to me at least, as Belizean as that of Beliken Beer.
Ivan Duran, who for as long as I can remember has owned Stonetree Records in Benque Viejo del Carmen in Belize, and who, with no hint of exaggeration or hyperbole, has tirelessly travelled the world promoting Belizean music, reckons “Santo Negro” is a Belizean song. I know from personal experience that this is someone with a true love of Belizean music, who is in the business fully aware that he is never going to get rich, or even compensated for the number of hours he spends in putting Belize on the world music map. Don’t take my word for it, check out Stonetree Records’ catalogue. This is indeed a labour of love.
This is what Ivan had to say about “Santo Negro”;
“This recording is 100% Belizean… it represents an authentic Belizean sound which was conceived and created in Belize.
“Is the song Belizean? The answer is yes. Does it sound Belizean? The answer again is yes.”
I’m willing to accept Ivan’s experience here, but more importantly, what my own ears and soul tells me. When I hear “Santo Negro”, I hear Belize.
The word is that Aurelio is deeply disturbed and hurt by the controversy. No wonder. He’s a sensitive guy (just listen to his songs) and obviously loves Belize as much as any Belizean.
Again, I do understand both sides of the controversy, and know what it’s like to work hard for something your entire life and barely get by doing it. But I must say that I love “Santo Negro” and am sorry to hear about the controversy, especially right now as the Garifuna Collective is out there on the world stage introducing so many people to the beauty of Belizean music.
It’s wonderful that the world is learning that in addition to stunning scenery and the warmest, friendliest people you’ll find anywhere, Belize also offers a vibrant arts scene, world class events like the Belize international Film Festival, and the most diverse, soulful collection of music to come out of any country, and especially one so small with less than 350,000 inhabitants.
Also, the BTB has said that it will be using a variety of Belizean artists and musicians in the future, so really, we expect that many more wonderful Belizean musicians will get the exposure they so richly deserve.
And in that respect, we’ll give Alyssa Carnegie, BTB’s Marketing Director, the last word about the selection. Alyssa said,
“We felt it was less about the person and more about the music and more so the music that would help to get that story across about what the Belize picture is and we felt that this was a very genuine authentic and interested approach to getting that done.
“It just happen to be that he was born in Honduras but he is also an artist who produces music with a local recording company along with local artists, stalwarts and leaders in this cultural music revolution for Belize.”
We agree, and in closing want to say thank you not only to Aurelio, but to all Belizean musicians and artists who continue to make our lives that much richer for your contributions.