On January 19th, 2008 renowned Belizean musician Andy Palacio suddenly passed away at the age of 47. Andy Palacio, who was certainly on the rise in the international music scene when he died, proudly represented the African-descended Garifuna communities that are found predominantly in Belize, Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala.
Born in a small fishing village called Barranco in Belize that until recently was only accessible by boat, Andy Palacio rose from his humble roots to become one of the most recognized musicians in all of Latin America. Beyond his extraordinary singing and songwriting, Andy dedicated his life to promoting the rich cultural traditions of the his people, the Garifuna. An all around well respected man, he was appointed to the position of Belizean Cultural Ambassador in 2004.
Andy's most recent CD "Watina", which he recorded with a group of his peers known as the Garifuna Collective, was very warmly received and is a powerful testament to the enduring vibrancy of the Garifuna culture in Latin America. In 2007 Andy was honored with the prestigious Womex Award for his cultural and musical contributions to world music. In his acceptance speech he spoke proudly of his heritage saying,
"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.
The true heroes behind my music are really those first Garifuna fighters who, in the 18th Century, on the island of Yurumei (St. Vincent) stood up against slavery, colonization and cultural domination, choosing to keep their identity and remain the Garifuna Nation. Many, including Paramount Chief Joseph Chattoyer, paid the ultimate price.
Then came those who survived that genocide and were forcibly relocated to the Caribbean coast of Central America. This award honours those mothers and fathers who have passed on this legacy (including our language, music, dance, folklore and spirituality) to their children, that we today may add to the richness and diversity that makes our world a better place for all."
It is truly an inspirational speech.
In 2007 Andy was designated an "Artist for Peace" by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). This past November he traveled back to his home village of Barranco to present his award and was paraded through town by a giant crowd of drummers and dancers. Following his death this month it was announced that Andy was awarded the BBC Radio 3 Award for Best Music of the Year from the Americas. This was a an unprecedented announcement because although a jury picks the winners in late December, the awards are not usually presented until mid April. The early award recognition was very honorable.
Andy Palacio was definitely on my radar when he passed away this week. I have really been impressed with the rich musical compositions on the album Watina and I'm sure I would have purchased it eventually regardless of his death. Unfortunately I missed out on seeing him and the Collective live this past summer in Chicago because Seun Kuti was playing the same night in Madison. Because I live in Madison I went to see Seun, but it seems I made the wrong choice. I will remain a fan and hopefully I can find solace in his earlier material.
Andy had accomplished much in his 47 years, but his potential to continue producing incredible music was truly great. Let's hope future generations of Garifunas can carry on his musical and cultural legacy.
Take a listen of Andy Palacio's music on his Myspace page and enjoy the following short film about Andy and Garifuna music.
Andy Palacio 1960-2008