Music and Local Culture: Turtle Shells in Punta Rock in Belize

Grant Rich (Independent Scholar)

Belize, often described as a Caribbean nation in Central America, is a richly diverse nation, with Creole, Mestizo, Maya, Garifuna, and Mennonite groups well-represented among its population of about 300,000. A similar number of Belizeans are estimated to live abroad, mostly in the U.S.A. As such, Belize offers the ethnomusicologist a moveable musical feast of drums, guitars, harps, and more. This presentation focuses upon the use of the turtle shell in Garifuna punta rock music, as a lens through which to explore transnational spaces for musical cultures. The Garifuna, an Afro-Indigenous people, are part of three diasporas (African, Garifuna, and Central American) and are united across national borders as an ethnic group by common language, history, and culture. Ingredients in the Garifuna music of modernity reflect both continuity and change with tradition, as the music has moved from ritual music, paranda, and punta to include the electrified punta rock popular today. The career of Andy Palacio offers a focus for understanding what may be termed a Garifuna musical diaspora. Palacio became a regional star in the 1980s and 1990s, with albums such as Keimoun, and became a world phenomenon with his album Watina, which appeared on many Best of 2007 lists around the globe. How Palacio’s music combined with modern musical production to craft an album that achieved international popularity with a music sung in a traditional language and with traditional instruments is an instructive lesson in sound, music, and technology as well as in the ethnopsychology of optimal performance.
[Text Originally in the AAA 2013 Program]