various artists,
Umalali: The Garifuna Women's Project
(Cumbancha, 2008)

The singing of the Garifuna lies at the heart of Umalali: The Garifuna Women's Project, but there is more to it than that. There are the additional instruments and sounds that were added to most tracks in the studio, giving this traditional music a new feel with blues, rock and funk stylings and touches of African, Latin and Caribbean sounds. The additions fit in with the native Garifuna singing very well, and the end results are well worth taking the time to listen to. The videos that are included give more a feel of the people and the culture that the music comes from. The liner notes are also very well worth the read.

The Garifuna are descended from shipwrecked West African slaves who intermarried with the Carib and Arawak Indians of the Caribbean. Today, they live primarily in villages on the Caribbean coasts of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Produced by Ivan Duran, the album is the culmination of five years of seeking and collecting songs, as well as finding the right female voices to sing them. Songs were recorded in a seaside hut before the final touches were added in a more professional studio setting.

The sparse instrumentation of "Nibari (My Grandchild)" allows the singer's voice to define the tone of the song. The addition of music to "Merua" shifts the feel of the song from that of a work song to one that could so easily be for dancing. There is a contrast between the sadder tone of the lyrics and the upbeat feel of the music in "Yunduya Weyu (The Sun has Set)" that is bridged by how the lyrics are delivered. The music keeps a similar mood in "Barubana Yagien (Take Me Away)," but the song itself becomes a love song.

The music shifts to a more upbeat tone with the start of "Hattie" and the group singing keeps the mood going. "Luwuburi Sigala (Hills of Tegucigalpa)" is a quieter song and the delivery leaves the song feeling reflective. The measured beat of "Anaha Ya (Here I Am)" gives it the feel of a work song and the guitar that was added in later slides in very smoothly. There is a sense of longing in "Tuguchili Elia (Elias Father)" in both the singing and the guitars keeping it going at the end.

Part of "Fuleisei (Favours)" is sung with call and reply, with the music keeping things rolling quickly. The music added to "Uruwei (The Government)" is muted, providing a soft blues feel. The drums mark the switch to "Afayahadina (I Have Travelled)" and the music kicks into full swing once the singers start. The CD slows down to close with "Lirun Biganute (Sad News)" with vocals that drift in mournfully and could have carried the song on their own.

Umalali: The Garifuna Women's Project was born of passion, and that passion is well served by all that is gathered on the CD. The songs and the extra materials that were added give a more complete feel for the process of creating this CD.

music review by
Paul de Bruijn

7 May 2011

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