Punta Goes Global  
By: Jos� Francisco �vila
Originally published in 1992 

� 2014 by Jos� Francisco �vila, All Rights Reserved

 
At last, the time has arrived when Garinagu in Honduras are loudly and proudly celebrating their culture. And there is much to celebrate. Almost every cultural contribution that foreigners associate with Honduras has its origin in the Garifuna culture. Examples of this are:

 

Jose Francisco Avila 

 1. The now famous play LOUBAVAGU, which had a triumphant run in Honduras and outside its borders. It was nominated as the best play at the 1986 Panama Festival.

 

2. The National Garifuna Folklore Ballet, directed and choreographed by Crisanto Melendez and which is sponsored by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

 

3. Last but not least, "Punta" the festive contagious Garifuna rhythm which placed Honduras' name in a positive note around the world and allowed the musical group "Banda Blanca" to achieve international exposure.

 

This last cultural contribution has caused a great deal of controversy in the Garifuna community. The feelings of this community have been recorded by the Garifuna author Virgilio L�pez Garc�a, in his book "Garifuna Shout" (Clamor Gar�funa) in which he writes "Punta is a contagious rhythm, which is losing its value as an authentic Garifuna dance, despite the fact that we have fought arduously to maintain our culture. Some Honduran musical groups have had the audacity of plagiarizing original Garifuna music for their own financial benefit, this in itself is a crime. Even going as far a corrupting our language and our dance."

 

I must admit that just like Mr. L�pez Garc�a, I was very upset and disappointed when "Banda Blanca" became an overnight success with the plagiarized version of "Conch Soup" (Original Recording by Sounds Incorporated from Belize). However, my anger and disappointment was not so much about what they had achieved as it was the lack of recognition they gave our culture, which was totally responsible for their success. I resented the fact that during their initial appearances on American radio and television, they claimed to be "the creators of Punta". I resented their audacity so much that I proceeded to exercise my right of freedom of speech and wrote letters to the major Hispanic TV networks and radio stations around the nation clarifying this false claim.

 

There's no question in my mind that such claim was the result of ignorance and lack of preparation on the part of "Banda Blanca". This was confirmed by their musical director, Pilo Tejada to the Honduras press.

 

However, I must give them credit for realizing the controversy they had created and took steps to correct the situation. For instance I know that Mr. Tejada contacted that great Garifuna composer Justo Castro to get information about us, to better explain the origins of Punta to the international media. He also expressed his admiration for Eduardo Ballestero, another Garifuna composer during an interview in Dallas and they even included Garifuna personnel in the "Conch Soup" video, while they also included Garifuna personnel during their televised presentation at the Eight Street Carnival in Miami.

 

It must also be realized that although plagiarism is a crime in this country and the copyright laws protect the intellectual rights of individuals, such protection was not implemented in Honduras until January of 1992. Unfortunately very few of our cultural material has been properly documented to allow legal registration of such works. One of the benefits of Banda Blanca's success, is the fact that they as well as other Honduran musical groups were exposed to the stringent copyright laws of this country. Therefore, containing the proliferation of the blatant abuse previously exercised by these groups. The lesson for us of course is that we must learn to value our artistic talents and take the necessary step to protect them.

 

It is unfortunate, that it usually takes a blatant abuse of our rights as human beings for the Garinagu of Honduras to get up and stand for their rights. For instance, as a result of the success achieved by Banda Blanca, a great deal of resentment has been expressed over their improper use of the Garifuna language. However, it took such an act for Garifunas to become conscious of our culture. There's a group of people in Honduras who previously did not want to identify with the Garifuna culture and were embarrassed to admit what they were. I have seen this attitude express itself in our youth, who sometimes claim to be Jamaicans and only listen to Reggae, others claim to be Dominicans and only dance Merengue, etc. However, they would never say "I'm Garifuna and Punta is my music". But, as a result of the Punta controversy, this same people now claim "Garinagu Wagia". Therefore, we cannot deny the fact that controversy has created a positive and hopeful environment among our people.

 

Unfortunately, the originators rarely enjoy the fame and fortune of the imitators. Frequently musicians from industrialized nations extract elements of Third World music and incorporate them into their own art, sometimes championing it, most of the time merely exploiting it. For instance, during the 30's and 40's bands from Cuba and Brazil spawned dance crazes in America, The mambo, one of the biggest, which like Punta was loosely based on Afro-Cuban religious rites, most likely via Zaire. American dance bands adopted and adapted these rhythms into their sets. Who can forget Eric Clapton's interpretation of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" or Paul Simon's hugely successful "Graceland" based on South African rhythms.

 

Yet, traditions from all over the world survive. I believe that it is fair to say that despite the controversy created by Banda Blanca, they have provided international exposure for our culture and we have benefited from it. It's great to see that despite our deportation from St. Vincent 199 years ago, our culture remains alive vibrant and more visible than ever.

 

Updates

 

Pitbull and Elvis Crespo Ruin Sopa de Caracol 

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