World in Stereo: Aurelio’s Laru Beya

Each week, World in Stereo examines classic and modern world music while striving for a greater appreciation of other cultures.

Aurelio: Laru Beya (Next Ambiance / Sub Pop, 1/18/11)

Aurelio: “Laru Beya”

[audio:|titles=Auarelio: “Laru Beya”]

Bringing the Garifuna sound to a global audience, Aurelio Martinez’s sophomore record, Laru Beya, is the second release from the Afro-centric label Next Ambiance, the latest imprint of Sub Pop Records.  After his close friend, Andy Palacio, passed away a year after the release of his acclaimed 2007 record, Wátina, Aurelio has become the new face of Garifuna music and culture.

A culture of intense generational assimilation that began during the slave trade when escaped African slaves inter-married the Caribbean Indian people of St. Vincent Island, the hybrid group was then deported by British colonizers to the coasts of Central America by the late 18th Century.  As a descendant of those forces, Garfunia’s musical legacy is marked by African, Caribbean, Indian, and Latin influences.  It’s a wealthy foundation on which Aurelio builds — a rhythmically powerful record accompanied by an astonishing sense of identity and place.

Mostly recorded at a beachfront house on the Honduran coast, Laru Beya (or “By The Beach”) is where Caribbean and African traditions meet.  Working closely with Senegalese music legend Youssou N’Dour, whose vocals are featured on two tracks, Aurelio is influenced by the Afropop sounds of Dakar’s music scene, where some of the album was also recorded.  And as recording sessions were also held in Belize, the three different sites make it all the more complicated to pinpoint Laru Beya’s overall diversity and complexity.  But as the album flows seamlessly between Brazilian and Afro-Cuban rhythms, and rock-steady chants and call-and-response dynamics, Aurelio proves to be the ideal translator of these music forms; he acts as the mediator between it all.

Masterfully produced by Ivan Duran, who also lends guitar work, the record’s production seems to be half of its success.  Aurelio’s soulful voice is matched by Duran’s clear and lush production aesthetic.  The record’s impressive display of percussion — everything from congas, maracas, sabar drums, turtle shells, and Garifuna drums — are crisp and audible, adding texture to each song with every hit.

But it’s Aurelio’s emotive musical language, learned from Palacio, that carries Laru Beya into something greater.  The record is filled with a liveliness that’s distinct to Aurelio’s guitar and rhythmic styling, a vision that’s brought to life by the great local musicians in the Garifuna community.  As a Garifuna women’s chorus drives “Laru Beya,” the Latin-tinged brass section holds it all together.  Tracks like “Yange” work in the same way; Aurelio’s intuitive West African guitar rhythm and urgent vocal deliveries are backed by the voices of his community.

Stand-out track “Beisien Nu,” featuring the vocals of Rudy Gomis and Balla Sidibé of the Orchestra Boabab, is a powerful ballad of melded musical traditions.  Featuring Aurelio on acoustic guitar and lead Garifuna drum, Gomis and Sidibé are the first non-Garifuna artists ever to sing in the native language.  Learning the verse phonetically, the singers belt it out with passionate vigor, a beautiful contrast to the traditional form that also receives an update from electrified guitars and organs.  The song demonstrates what is at the heart of Aurelio’s music: an innovative approach to the Garifuna sound with new arrangements and instrumentation — a style championed by Palacio before his death.

And as Laru Beya is dedicated to Aurelio’s mentor, Palacio, it comes as no surprise that the most stirring performance on the record is “Wamada,” which translates to “Our Mutual Friend,” a track dedicated to Palacio’s legacy.  Recorded in one take, the traditional song is part of Garifuna’s sacred Dügü ceremony.  An uplifting composition by all accounts, the track is inspirational and liberating, conquered by Aurelio’s voice with featured vocals from N’Dour, who adds additional layers of poignant richness.

An accomplished array of diverse sounds, Aurelio’s Laru Beya is bringing the Garifuna sound back into the world’s consciousness.  Packaged with extensive liner notes, song explanations, and photographs, it also stands as an early milestone for Next Ambiance’s venture into the world-music scene. But at 39, Aurelio may be part of the last generation to grow up steeped in Garifuna tradition. His music stands as an inspiration for today’s generation to preserve and protect its culture.

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