Tuesday, January 22, 2008

RIP Andy Palacio

On Saturday the world lost one of its greatest practitioners of cultural advocacy. Andy Palacio died from respiratory failure after suffering a stroke and a heart attack. He was 47.

Andy Palacio grew up in a Garifuna family and village on the coast of Belize in Central America. His musical influences were many, but he had an abiding love for Garifuna rhythms.

The Garifuna are descendants of West African slaves who were shipwrecked in 1635 off the coast of the island of St. Vincent and intermarried with local Arawak and Carib people. Eventually forced off the island by the English, they settled in villages along the coasts of Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Today there are about a quarter million Garifuna, and they are under pressure from assimilation and coastal development.

Recognizing the threatened state of the culture and its language, Palacio began championing Garifuna music on his Radio Belize radio program and bringing together musicians to record and play concerts. In 2003, he was named director of culture at the Belize Arts Council. Last year he was named a UNESCO Artist For Peace. "Watina," the album he recorded last year with an inspired group of musicians dubbed the Garifuna Collective, was considered by many to be one of the outstanding world music releases of the year.

Grant and I played a lot from 'Watina' on World Tour this past year. We were looking forward to hearing more from the Garifuna Collective. We're hoping the collective lives on and that the Garifuna culture is stronger for his enthusiasm on their behalf.

You can be sure I'll be playing some of Andy Palacio's music this Sunday afternoon.

- Jay King

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