Hypnotic, Haunting Songs and a Rare NYC Show By the Garifuna Collective

by delarue

If you’ve never heard it before, Central American Garifuna music is like nothing else on the planet. It has the bubbling, circular riffs of West African folk music, but also the hypnotic bounce of the Caribbean, and the frequently somber tones of the blues. And it is some of the catchiest music you will ever hear. Its best known advocates are the Garifuna Collective, a loosely organized mix of musicians from Belize and Honduras who burst into worldwide acclaim in 2007 with their debut album, Watina. Tragically, bandleader Andy Palacio died unexpectedly within months of its release. Now, the band has regrouped and is currently on North American tour to promote their fantastic new album Ayo (meaning “goodbye” in Garifuna), a tribute to their fallen frontman. They’re playing Highline Ballroom on July 2 at  8 PM; $15 advance tickets are still available as of today.

The album has references to reggae and blues but is its own animal. Many of the songs have a dark, distantly menacing edge, in the same vein as the best Haitian music. Lyrics in the native vernacular are delivered by a succession of male and female singers. Some of the songs feature just electric guitar and percussion behind the vocals; others feature what’s essentially a full rock band lineup. The title track is like soukous, but edgier; the second shuffles along with a Spanish Caribbean lilt. The ridiculously catchy third one has a bit of a reggae feel, which then comes front and center on the next track, a sort of minimalist, shadow image of what Bob Marley did with Could You Be Loved.

The next tune blends elements of rocksteady and salsa over a slinky Afro-Cuban inflected groove; the one after that reminds of the original Wailers’ version of Peter Tosh’s Get Up, Stand Up, but with a gorgeous turnaround that takes the song to a delicious crescendo. The rest of the album includes a dusky, otherworldly, chromatically-fueled slink, a more wary take on American hackysack pop, a ridiculously memorable, scampering tune that works its way from subtle polyrhythms to hints of dub, a couple of scurrying, minimalist, apprehensively echoey numbers and a tensely bouncing concluding cut that brings to mind the Ventures classic Diamond Head. The purposefulness of the playing is stunning — throughout the album, no one – percussionists, guitarist, bassist, drummer and electric keyboardist – wastes a single note. As dark and spacious as much of this album is, ultimately, it’s dance music: the Highline show should be both animated and hypnotic. Be aware that the Garifuna Collective are sharing the bill with singer-songwriter Danny Michel, a purveyor of lightweight hippie pop, whose newly released album features the Garifuna Collective as a backing band and is not nearly as good.