Garifuna Music and Dance  
 
As we continue the celebration of Garifuna Arts & Culture Appreciation Month in NYC,   we continue with a description of Garifuna Music and Dance, as described in the  UNESCO Candidature Standard Form Proclamation of Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity submitted by the National Garifuna Council of Belize.

 


There is an intimate relationship between Garifuna language and Garifuna music and between the music and the Dance as can be seen in the paper entitled Inventory of Garifuna music and dance. Garifuna Music essentially consists of various types of songs that are utilized for different purposes in the culture. The songs are poetry. They capture the history, the values, the aspirations, the concerns and the deepest feelings of a people who have been kept illiterate in their own language. The songs capture and express the totality of the Garifuna experience and in a sense serve as a literature that is waiting to be committed to writing and translated into other languages for our common benefit. 

 

As for the melodies and the rhythms, which again are a very interesting amalgam of African and Amerindian elements enhanced by simple instruments in traditional music or by more elaborate instrumentation in the more modern Punta Rock forms, the appeal is universal. 

 

They are already being owned by a wider audience in Central America, an audience that has begun to work its way into the North American market and beyond as we can see from the success of Paranda, which has the advantage of worldwide distribution by Warner. One can also cite the example of the Garifuna song "Wata nege konk supu" which was composed by a Belizean artist from Dangriga named Chico Ramos. This song was stolen, partly translated into Spanish and popularized in North and South America by the Honduran Band La Banda Blanca under the title "Sopa de Caracol". There was a lawsuit and La Banda Blanca settled out of Court. This is significant in that it demonstrates the fact that Garifuna music has universal appeal. It also underscores the fact that there is a difference between traditional Garifuna music, which we submit is a common heritage of humanity, and the more modern Punta Rock, which it nourishes and is subject to restrictions like copyright laws.

 

Finally, Garifuna dance is just as varied as the types of songs. It has been shown in that the relationship between song and dance types is so close that the dance and the songs associated with it are known by the same name. Thus, one can sing or dance punta, hng�h�ng�, gunjai, wanaragua, paranda, sambai, chumba, etc. In addition, the dancers are always expected to know the songs and to even help to "sing for their feet". One unique feature of some of the dances including the wanaragua, the chumba and the sambai is that there is an unusual relationship between the drummer and the dancer such that the dancer dictates to the drummer whose task it is to anticipate the moves of the dancer and drum accordingly. This means that in these dances the dancers take turn dancing one by one, that the drummer has at all times to have a clear view of the dancer, especially his/her feet, and that the drummer can never be replaced by recorded or electronic music. It is our view that this feature of Garifuna Dance is rare if not indeed unique. The other dances have some elements of this feature to varying degrees though not to the extent that groups cannot do them. Still, they all have an appeal as we can see from the fact that the punta has become one of the best known and preferred dances in the region among Garifuna as well as non Garifuna, a phenomenon brought about by the emergence of Punta Rock in the early 1980's.

 

Garifuna music and dance, are equally authentic as the Garifuna Language. There is nothing like it among any of the other ethnic groups of this hemisphere although some elements may share common origins with some found elsewhere. It is believed, for example, that the Garifuna punta, the kumbia of Columbia and the kumina of Jamaica probably share common African origins while the hng�h�ng�, on close examination, manifests some Amerindian features suggesting some South American origins. The paranda reveals some Spanish influence, as this is where the guitar makes its entry into Garifuna music while the French influence is unmistakable in the Gunjai, a sort of square dance that utilizes songs, which abound with words that are reminiscent of French

 

  

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