Punta rock, a popular genre of contemporary Garifuna music created in the early 1980s, is based on arrangements of traditional songs and newly composed songs that employ the ostinato rhythm of the older Garifuna genre punta, a dance of procreation and its associated social commentary song form composed by women. Punta rock is most commonly performed by ensembles (usually composed of men) that combine indigenous Garifuna instruments – specifically, drums, rattles and occasionally struck turtle shells – and instruments typically found in rock and rhythm and blues bands – electric guitars, synthesized keyboards and drum machines. Punta rock songs are often based on popular, previously composed puntas and parandas, the Garifuna guitar-accompanied male social commentary song form. The characteristic rhythm of paranda is very similar to that of punta and the ostinato rhythmic patterns of both are played at a faster tempo in punta rock. By the mid-1980s, punta rock appealed to Central and North American Garifuna audiences, and the growing commercial market for it was seen as an avenue for potential financial success.
The Garifuna (collectively known as the Garinagu) are a people of West African and Native American descent who live along the Caribbean coast of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua and in US urban centers. They share a common language, system of beliefs and customs, series of ancestor veneration rituals and seasonal processionals, and repertoire of secular and semisacred dance-song genres. In the 1950s Garifuna, in search of better employment and education opportunities, began migrating in large numbers to US urban centers, primarily New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. This population shift resulted in tens of thousands of Garifuna living in the United States and it had a direct impact on the production of punta rock music in the region. Of the estimated 500,000 Garifuna worldwide, approximately 15,000 reside in Belize, 4,000 in Guatemala and 300,000 in the Honduras. Forty-five Garifuna communities are located in Honduras, six in Belize, two in Guatemala and two in Nicaragua. Sizeable populations of Garifuna also reside in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and New Orleans (National Garifuna Council of Belize, 2010).
Because the Garifuna punta and paranda genres are foundations of punta rock, it is useful to outline the musical characteristics of all three styles. Punta is fast in tempo and features a repetitive pattern of a quarter note and an eighth note played in the center of the segunda (bass) drumhead followed by two sixteenth notes played near the rim of the drumhead to produce a higher pitch (Example 1 below). The primero (tenor or lead) drummer improvises rhythmic motives based on a repertoire of potential patterns. Puntas, like most Garifuna song forms, are sung in a call-and-response manner and are accompanied by drumming and the playing of shakkas (calabash rattles). The most popular of the secular Garifuna dance forms, punta is the symbolic re-enactment of the cock and hen mating dance and is characterized by a motionless upper torso and rapid movement of the buttock and hips attributed to the continuous shuffling of the feet (Greene, ‘Punta’). Popular puntas are arranged or recast as punta rock songs by new and well-known solo artists as well as punta rock bands (Lovell 2009).
The Garifuna paranda evolved as a genre in the nineteenth century after the Garifuna arrived in Honduras, where they encountered the acoustic guitar and Latin and Spanish rhythms (Rosenburg 1999) and created their own genre of guitar-accompanied topical songs. Parandas that frequently have been arranged into punta rock songs include ‘Fiura,’ a song about a man’s love for his wife, and ‘Malate isien,’ a warning that love cannot be bought.
Parandas are performed at moderate tempos and are sung by men who accompany themselves on the guitar. When drums accompany the singing of parandas, the accompaniment features a repetitive pattern of a quarter note and an eighth note played in the center of the segunda drum head followed by a single eighth note played near the rim of the drum head to produce a higher pitch (Example 2 above). The primero drum improvises rhythmic patterns when accompanying parandas, as in performances of punta, but plays at a lower dynamic level so as not to distract from the sound of the guitar and voice, the principal instruments.
Until the advent of punta rock in the early 1980s, parandas were performed primarily during the Christmas season, much like the various forms of paranda found in other locations in the region. The existence of string and occasionally drum-accompanied Christmas song forms such as parranda in Venezuela and its derivative parang in Trinidad and Tobago, and parranda in Puerto Rico, along with the pre-Christmas festival in Cuba named parranda support the existence of a Spanish-derived song form from the region. In the twenty-first century, parandas and paranda-based songs of the Garifuna are performed year-round because the lyrics typically make no reference to Advent or Christmas as do many parrandas in other regions of the circum-Caribbean.
Punta rock songs are typically faster in tempo than the traditional Garifuna songs from which they are derived, and dance movements performed to punta rock are more provocative than those performed to punta. Compact discs released as punta rock often include selections in other traditional Garifuna song forms as well as newly composed songs. The latter are considered punta rock songs if they (1) are fast in tempo – most punta rock songs have a metronome marking of 120 to 160 for the quarter note, (2) employ the characteristic punta motive on the segunda and (3) feature the typical fusion of indigenous Garifuna and Western pop music instruments (Lovell 2009). Punta rock usually employs standard tonic, subdominant and dominant harmonic progressions and maintains the alternating verse-chorus, responsorial format characteristic of most traditional genres of Garifuna music. Musicians usually preserve the unique melodic contour and structure of the song on which the contemporary arrangement is based. Although Garifuna traditionally perform melodies and refrains of punta and paranda songs in unison in communal and social settings, punta rock musicians occasionally perform melodies and refrains in harmonic intervals of thirds and sixths.
Some Garifuna songs have been recast in non-Garifuna song forms such as reggae and dub-poetry, as demonstrated on the disc Rhodee (2002), by the Belizean Garifuna Rhodel Castillo, who lives in Chicago. Punta rock recordings by Los Angeles-based Belizean vocalist and producer Aziatic such as The Rebirth (1999) often contain elements of rhythm and blues, soca, rap and hip-hop, and traditional love ballads. Recordings by Guatemalan and Honduran musicians often contain ballads in Spanish and Garifuna and display the influence of Latin American musical styles such as salsa, merengue and bolero. Multinational New York-based bands such as Garifuna Legacy produce recordings that employ elements of a wide range of Caribbean, Latin American and North American urban music styles. Some artists release remakes of songs originally composed as punta rock songs. For example, ‘Huya’ (It’s Raining) by Aziatic y Los Nuevos Conceptos (1999) is distinctly different from ‘Huya Belice’ (It’s Raining in Belize) (1982) by Pen Cayetano and the Original Turtle Shell Band.
Views concerning the origin and development of punta rock differ in Honduras and Belize, the two leading commercial exponents of the music for many years. Aurelio Martinez, the most popular Honduran Garifuna recording artist and former elected Congressman (2005 to 2009), credits Gobana, an ensemble of young black Hondurans, with starting punta rock in the 1980s (Martinez 2003). Hector Vera, a noted Honduran promoter, believes punta rock began almost simultaneously in Belize and Honduras. Vera states that soca and other styles of Caribbean music from English-speaking countries in the region directly influenced Garifuna popular music in Belize just as salsa and various forms of Latin-American music from Spanish-speaking countries influenced Garifuna music in Honduras (2000).
Belizeans attribute the creation and early development of the genre to Delvin Rudoph ‘Pen’ Cayetano, a highly celebrated, self-taught musician and Garifuna painter from Dangriga, the largest Garifuna settlement in Belize (R. Cayetano 1982). Cayetano, with the assistance of several local musicians, is credited with forming the Turtle Shell Band, the first punta rock band, in the late 1970s. This was a period when popular US rhythm and blues and Anglo-Caribbean music, played on Belizean radio stations, attracted the attention of Garifuna youth. The ongoing emigration of Garifuna to the United States that had begun in the 1950s resulted in a generation gap in many Garifuna villages, primarily composed of youth and their grandparents. This phenomenon contributed to the separation Garifuna youth felt from their indigenous music and language, expressions of identity they associated with elders.
I knew that the Garinagu culture had reached the time for a change. I studied the old songs and played the Garifuna drums and also discovered how to use different sizes of turtle shells as percussion instruments. ... I finally got the idea of quickening the traditional Punta rhythm, adding the electric guitar and the turtle shell to it and called the music Punta Rock and named the group ‘The Turtle Shell Band’
|--(P. Cayetano n.d.)|
The original members of the band included ‘Pen’ (guitar, lead vocals and background vocals), Horace ‘Mohobob’ Flores (lead turtle shells, lead vocals and background vocals), Conrad ‘Faltas’ Nolberto (‘cricket-snare,’ an original drum made of scraps of truck metal, other percussion instruments and background vocals), Egbert ‘Myme’ Martinez (double drums, a pair of single-headed membranophones played by one person, and background vocals), Peter ‘Jeep’ Lewis (MC, shakkas, whistle and background vocals) and Bernard ‘Higgins’ Higinio (small turtle shells and background vocals) (P. Cayetano 2007; E. R. Cayetano 1982). In October 2010 Pen Cayetano and the Turtle Shell Band reunited for a series of concerts in Chicago after 29 years. Pen and Mohobob Flores remain the most active members of the original band as solo performers, and Myme Martinez lives and performs primarily in Los Angeles.
The immediate success of the Turtle Shell Band in the early 1980s resulted in Friday evening roadblock performances and engagements at house parties. In July 1982 the band traveled to Belize City, the largest city in the country, where it performed at a local club, a park and ultimately on Radio Belize. Most of the songs were in the Garifuna language and emphasized themes such as history, cultural identity and pride, and love. By 1983 the band had performed at the New Orleans Jazz Festival and in several locations in the Caribbean and Mexico (Greene 2002, 199).
Punta rock bands, from their inception in the 1970s, featured an amalgam of indigenous and electric instruments. Through experimentation, Pen Cayetano discovered that combinations of turtle shells of different sizes produced variations of high and low indefinite pitched sounds and that a unique instrumental balance could be achieved when played with the Garifuna garawouns, drums (E. R. Cayetano 1982). By the mid-1980s the bass guitar had been added to the ensemble, and by the early to mid-1990s recordings featured synthesized keyboards playing countermelodies and drum machines. Bands found it financially advantageous to perform without segunda players because the drum machine could reproduce the ostinato pattern played on the segunda. The primero remained the primary percussion instrument because primero drummers added rhythmic variety to the music and because of their highly valued ability to interpret rhythmically the movement of dancers.
Turtle shells, the characteristic instrument of early punta rock, were seldom heard on recordings in the last decades of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century. First-generation punta rock performers such as Pen Cayetano and his contemporaries, Chico Ramos, the late Andy Palacio, Aurelio Martinez and Rhodel Castillo, were generally successful in their efforts to encourage younger musicians to reinstate the segunda as a staple instrument of punta rock. These older musicians and Garifuna elders continue to advocate the correct grammatical use of the Garifuna language among younger punta rock artists, many of whom have included English, Belizean Creole or words that are a fusion of these languages with Garifuna in their songs.
With the birth and early development of punta rock in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a musical medium was created to promote Garifuna identity through the maintenance of the Garifuna language and song forms rooted in a common history and social and cultural ideals (Greene 2002, 190). By the mid-1980s punta rock had become the genre of choice for many Garifuna musicians for several reasons. First, recordings could include punta rock arrangement of songs based on puntas and parandas as well as acoustic versions of these songs and other traditional song forms familiar to most Garifuna. Second, most songs were in the Garifuna language and therefore accessible to Garifuna from either English- or Spanish-speaking countries. Third, the characteristic rhythm of punta and the instrumentation and typical sound associated with punta rock provided a stylistic framework for new compositions. Finally, because punta rock music was popular among youth and young adults, the potential for sales of this new style of music was seen as far greater than those other forms of Garifuna music.
From the mid-1980s though the late 1990s punta rock reigned as the focal point and principal medium through which record labels, music producers, popular music advocates and musicians promoted Garifuna cultural identity. Because punta rock is often a recasting of preexisting songs and therefore intimately linked to language and social commentary, it has remained a vital link to the past and to the expression of identity. However, neither punta rock nor its predecessor, punta, is responsible for the meteoric rise of Garifuna music on the world music market. This rise can be attributed to the broad success of acoustic genres of Garifuna music such as paranda and songs composed by women other than punta. Acoustic and derived forms of Garifuna music are now classified as world music because they communicate the groove and cultural allure of traditional Garifuna musical identity (Stone 2006, 68). The advent of Garifuna music as world music can be attributed primarily to the international success of three acoustic-based recordings: Paranda: Africa in Central America (1999), Watina (Palacio 2007), which contains hints of Afro-Caribbean music but no punta, and Umalali: The Garifuna Women’s Project (2008), arrangements of songs by female vocalists from Belize, Honduras and Guatemala that also contain elements of Afro-Caribbean music. The popularity of Paranda: Africa in Central America paved the way for Watina and Umalali, collaborative recordings between Stonetree and Cumbancha Records, the later of which has an established market for global distribution. Each of these influential and commercially successful recordings was produced by Ivan Duran, the Cuban-trained musician who founded Stonetree Records in Belize.
The late Andy Palacio, punta rock musician and former Cultural Ambassador for Belize, and Ivan Duran were cowinners of the 2007 WOMEX (World Music Expo) award for their work on Watina, the highest-selling recording of Garifuna music to date.
Although no songs in the style of punta rock are featured on Watina, the global popularity of this compact disk sparked renewed interest in indigenous music among Garifuna youth and young adults, collectively, the largest consumer group of Garifuna popular music. According to Isani Cayetano, host of radio and TV shows in Belize City, Belize, many Garifuna youth had begun to develop a preference for American hip-hop and rap, reggaeton, reggae and other forms of contemporary regional music before the advent of Watina (Cayetano 2005). However, punta rock remains the preferred genre of musical expression among Garifuna youth and young adults for three primary reasons. First, punta rock promotes the use of the indigenous language. Second, it continues to be based primarily on preexisting social commentary songs, many of which have been familiar to most Garifuna since childhood. Finally, because dance is arguably the most important use for popular music, punta rock assures the survival of the punta dance, the most celebrated of the traditional dance forms. Young punta rock artists and bands who have begun to establish themselves as the second generation of Garifuna popular musicians include Super G (Lensford Martinez) and Aziatic (Vincent Lewis) of Belize, Eddie GNG (Eddie Alvarez and the Garifuna New Generation band) and Socié Style (Carlos Bonia) from Guatemala; and Young Gari (Frank Ruiz) and Lil June (La Punta Chow) from Honduras. Although groundbreaking recordings such as Watina may become more frequent in the near future, punta rock will likely remain the most celebrated expression of popular music identity because its value lies in its role as a medium for reinterpreting and recasting traditional Garifuna rhythms, melodies and social-commentary themes in new ways.
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