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Mar 28, 2008

Stonetree Records release first all women Garifuna CD

Story PictureUmalali means “voice” in Garifuna, but the producers of a new music album released this week under that title are hoping the compilation of songs will become an important communication tool for one of Belize’s most dynamic cultures. News Five’s Kendra Griffith explains.

Ivan Duran
“Women have played a very important role in Garifuna culture. They have been responsible for passing on several aspects of their culture and traditions including music. A fact that is very little known is that the majority of Punta compositions are composed by women.”

Kendra Griffith
But now it’s time for Garifuna women to have their turn in music’s spotlight. Their vehicle is a new CD entitled Umalali: The Garifuna Women’s Music Project. After ten years in the making, the album was released this morning by Stonetree Records.

Ivan Duran, Producer
“Over the years I have recorded dozens of women from all the Garifuna communities in Central America. Some of the more striking voices are for example Sofia Blanco and her daughter Silvia, Desere Diego, Marcella Lewis, her daughter Julia Nunez, Chela Torres for example comes to mind, a Belize City resident who has been singing most of her life and this if her first recording as a lead artist.”

Desere Diego, Umalali Singer
“It was a pleasure for me to be working on the project. It was a lot of hard work must say and I feel great being a young woman to be on the Umalali.”

Kendra Griffith
“How did you feel when he asked you to be on this CD?”

Marcela Aranda, Umalali Singer
“I mi tell ah I can’t sing good, but I wah try.”

Although uncertain of her talents, Marcela Aranda held her own among the nine other women on the CD. According to Producer Ivan Duran, the album’s dozen tracks are more than just songs, they are life stories.

Ivan Duran
“I think this album is more than just these women signing. What’s important is the stories of the songs and the story of their lives.”

Desere Diego
“I am singing the “Hattie”, which is a song made in Hopkins by Ms. Sarita Martinez, I guess it’s her grandmother also. The Hattie was about the Hurricane Hattie in 1961.”

The songs tell of the pain of childbirth, missing husbands and travelling … but on track twelve, Julia Nunez sings about the lost of her son, Sydney, who was killed in 1993.

Nunez could not be there today, but her daughter Gwen Nunez Gonzales, says her mother experienced a mix of emotions while recording.

Gwen Nunez Gonzales, Daughter/Granddaughter, Umalali Singers
“For my mom it was very uplifting and overwhelming at the same time. She releases her anger, her emotions through music. So she composed a song.”

Gonzales’s grandmother, Marcella Lewis, is also one of the Umalali singers. She passed away in 2006 but the young woman is confident Lewis will live on through the music.

Gwen Nunez Gonzales
“She was a Garifuna activist, someone who taught the Garifuna Language and the culture, someone who fought for women’s affairs. This CD is like an eye opener, an enlightener and also the different songs if you listen to the words yes maybe they might have a merry but if you listen to some of the words they are really sad and reflective. So this, I believe is another stepping stone for women so that people can see them in a different light.”

Ivan Duran
“Very few women have made careers in music or recorded or performed as a lead artist and I think this project will start to change that and that’s one of my hopes, that this project will encourage more women in the community to step up and decide to take on a musical career.”

On April second, three of the women singers: Sofia Blanco, Silvia Blanco and Desere Diego will leave the country with the Garifuna Collective to embark on a tribute tour in honour of Andy Palacio.

Ivan Duran
“Andy was really looking forward to presenting the Umalali singers on this year’s tour. It’s a tour that was booked last year and they were gonna go one month to the U.S. and two months in Europe and Andy was kind of like the spokesperson of the project and he was really looking forward to that and since he passed away the tour that he had was made into a tribute tour. The idea is to continue Andy’s mission. The Garifuna Collective has a lot of talents that will now come to forefront and continue Andy’s work.”

The tour will actually kick off on Sunday in Belize City at the Bliss Centre. Duran believes that the Umalali women have what it takes to enjoy the same success of the critically acclaimed Watina.

Ivan Duran
“I feel very happy and I think it’s a very good follow up to Watina and so far the international reviews that are coming in are very encouraging and I think it’s gonna be as successful as Watina. The latest news is that the album is already at number one in college radio in Canada after only two weeks of airplay. It also hit number seven on the college radio in the U.S. and all the reviews are as good as Watina, so I am very hopeful that the impact will also be big.”

Umalali is an enhanced CD with several bonus tracks and over twenty-five minutes of video. It retails for thirty dollars at music stores. Kendra Griffith reporting for News Five.

Sunday’s concert starts at six p.m. Tickets are available at the Bliss for twenty dollars reserve, ten general.

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