Aurelio Martínez: 'I want to turn the tide with my music'

August 2008 -

Aurelio Martínez is one of the most important ambassadors of the Garifuna music that is slowly but surely overtaking the world. No matter where he is, he manages to show how extraordinary his culture is. "Our culture is unique in the world. That is also the reason Unesco recently declared the culture a World heritage. Of course this is great, but it won't get you very far if the pretty words are not supported by money to maintain and expand our culture. For example by setting up music schools; we don’t have a one in the Garifuna territory."

Aurelio Martínez

The Garifuna people live on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua; they are a mixture of Africans who escaped from slavery and the indigenous population. Andy Palacio, who died in January of 2008, was the first Garifuna Singer who performed their music on foreign stages. Martínez, who was already playing percussion at age six and who is blessed with a velvety voice, is now walking in his footsteps. Martínez' dream to discover his African roots was fulfilled when he was awarded the Rolex Mentorship, which will enable him to collaborate with the Senegalese superstar Youssou N'Dour for a year. "The rhythms of our music are the same. I hope to learn a lot from him", he says about this opportunity.

Singer, guitarist, composer and songwriter Martinez is also politically active as the first Garifuna representative in the Honduran parliament. However, he is convinced that he can achieve more with music than as a politician. "Garifunas sing of the suffering they have endured. I follow through on that and sing about the suffering of society such as that caused by aids or NGOs who pour money into projects that ultimately deliver nothing. If I touch people with my music, this has much more effect than government campaigns or projects conducted by organizations who just throw money around. This way, I also contribute to maintaining the Garifuna culture that is quickly being lost, for example by the continuing advance of the evangelical churches in Central America. They forbid the Garifunas to dance or perform their rituals. Only 200,000 of the 400,000 Garifunas in Honduras still speak our native language. I hope that I can turn the tide with my music."

The Hivos Culture Fund supported in 2008 the cd production Umalali. The Garifuna Women's Project.