'I for you and you for me'

'I for you and you for me'

The Garifuna Collective celebrates life and community at the Levitt in MacArthur Park

By Bliss Bowen 08/07/2013

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Moving forward in the wake of a beloved bandmate’s death carries many challenges. Those challenges were arguably steeper for the members of the Garifuna Collective after frontman Andy Palacio suddenly died, as he was the internationally recognized spokesman for their culturally rich but little-known Afro-Amerindian Garifuna community in Central America.

It was Palacio who, more than anyone else, focused worldwide attention on Garifuna music with the much applauded album “Wátina,” released just months before he was stricken with a fatal heart attack and stroke in January 2008. 

Now the Garifuna Collective has a new album, “Ayó,” released last month on producer Ivan Duran’s Stonetree Records through the Cumbancha label. Their North American tour brings them to Los Angeles for a free concert at the Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park this Thursday. 

Unlike “Wátina,” which was credited to Palacio and the Garifuna Collective, “Ayó” is a more truly collective effort. According to Duran, who produced both albums, originally there was no intention to have a frontman, but Palacio just naturally “stepped up” and became the face the global community associated with Garifuna culture; he was already an established punta rock artist and activist for his heritage. Minus his magnetic voice, the songs on “Ayó” are unified by polyrhythmic grooves and songs celebrating community.

The modern-day Garifuna community is concentrated along the Caribbean coast of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, but its roots wind back to West Africa. When ships packed with slaves from West Africa sank off the Caribbean island of St. Vincent in the mid-17th century, indigenous Carib tribes took in the survivors who swam to shore. The resulting hybridized culture came to be known as Garifuna. When UNESCO declared Garifuna Language, Dance and Music a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in May 2001, it cited the need to bolster support for the Garifuna “mother tongue” as well as the “central and vibrant” roles music and dance play in Garifuna communities. 

The Garifuna Collective balances electric guitars and keyboards with traditional instruments such as cuatro, jaw bone, maracas, shakers and turtle shells. Their heavily percussive music has the balmy vibe typically associated with the Caribbean, though their grooves are a bit tougher. What sets the democratic ensemble apart from regional contemporaries is their call-and-response harmonies. When they mourn Palacio’s passing on the gospel-like “Ayó,” or raise their closely bonded voices on “Alagan (Legacy)” to honor the Garifuna spiritual principle of “Au bun, Amürü nu (I for you and you for me),” or sing of the value of fishing to their communities on “Galuma (Calm),” the effect is positively life-affirming.  

Garifuna Collective perform at the Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park, near the intersection of 2230 W. 6th St., Echo Park, at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 8. Free admission. Info: (626) 683-3230. Garifunacollective.com

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