To understand Andy Palacio and his place in the world music community, one must first understand the precarious position of his oft-forgotten Garifuna people. Two slave ships loaded to the gills with captive West Africans sank off the coast of St. Vincent Island in 1635, and when the survivors swam to shore, they were taken in and given refuge by the indigenous Carib peoples who lived there. The displaced Africans and hospitable Caribs lived and worked together, intermarried, and ultimately created a hybrid culture -- the Garifuna. The staunchly independent Garifuna community resisted colonization and European domination tooth and nail. Once the colonizers had learned that the Garifuna were too stubborn and too strong to enslave, they resorted to moving them around, ultimately forcing them to the Caribbean coast of Central America in modern day Nicaragua, Honduras, and Belize. Over the course of modern history the Garifuna have endured marginalization and oppression to a point where their very culture and language face extinction. Enter Andy Palacio. Palacio was born and raised in Barranco, Belize, a city where Garifuna language, traditions, and musical expression still live and breathe. Palacio was musically active early on, although preferring to learn and perform popular Caribbean music and Top 40 hits with his friends over the music of his ancestry.
Through work in a Nicaraguan literacy program in the '80s, Palacio became aware of the threat his people's culture faced. As his artistic career developed, Palacio became part of a community of young Garifuna artists and intellectuals, producing modern artistic works that honored their native past. Palacio became the leading voice of the punta rock genre, a style based on Garifuna rhythms that intermingled with other Caribbean dance styles. Over the course of several years Palacio became Belize's most famous living artist, gaining recognition throughout the Caribbean and Europe. At the dawn of the new century, Palacio came to know Belizean record producer and fellow cultural activist Ivan Duran, owner of Stonetree Records. Together, Palacio and Duran developed the idea for the Garifuna Collective, an all-star group of accomplished Garifuna musicians from all over the region. The band's repertoire would favor traditional instrumentation and musical styles over pop influences. Andy Palacio & the Garifuna Collective's debut record, Wátina, was released in March of 2007. It has been popular on world music charts around the globe, holding a position in the Top Five on European charts for months at a time. ~ Evan C. Gutierrez