The Garifuna are a distinct Afro-Caribbean group that originated in 1635 when a boat carrying African slaves shipwrecked off of the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. The survivors integrated into the Carib population and developed their own West African/Caribbean language and culture. Within two centuries the Garifuna had settled in several locations along the Central American coastline yet, unlike many cultures, maintained their own communities and never fully integrated into the Spanish-influenced mainstream. Today, Garifuna “punta” music and culture survive and even thrive on this uniqueness.
A Garifuna drum ensemble, called the garaón, consists of three drums — the lead primera (“the heart drum,”) the segunda, which plays a counter-rhythm (“the shadow drum”) and and the tercera, which sets the foundation with a bass line. Most Garifuna rhythms fit within a 2/4 time signature, or have two beats per measure, though when all the drums there are many intertwining rhythms to drive the dance. Upon that, Garifuna percussion ensembles add drums with wires stretched across them as snares and any number of rattles and shakers. Contemporary Garifuna groups playing “punta rock,” a genre pioneered by “Pen” Cayetano and taken international by Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective, add bass and electric guitar.
Shake your hips and do the punta | There are many Garifuna dances | A Garifuna drum lesson | Umalali: Garifuna women and the power of song | “Watina”: | Watch Garifuna musical educator and friend of All Around This World James Lovell perform Garifuna music at the United Nations