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Nov 18, 1998

Tribute to a master drummer

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He died in 1988, having lived long enough to see at least the beginnings of the cultural revolution which would see traditional Garifuna music take the country and globe by storm in the form of punta rock. But the world that master drummer Isabel Flores was born into was not full of CDs by Andy, Mohobub or Aziatic. In fact it didn’t have CDs at all… or cassettes… and barely any record players. But it did have… the drums. The following interview with Isabel Flores was conducted by Diane Haylock in 1987, less than a year before he died.

Diane Haylock

“Punta rock has been rumbling in the streets, discos, hearts, minds, bones and souls of Belize. Unless you’ve been sleeping for the past few months you know it’s the latest craze in town. But where did it all begin? Not with punta or rock but with the drums of our fathers in the south. I am here in Dangriga to talk to the master himself, Isabel Flores.”

Isabel Flores

“My father owns a drum and my uncle owns another one. So I get to learn with my father and his brother. When they put it down I go and I use it until I get up. And from then I get into the ranks of playing for Belize. That is why when September we always go from here on the eighth.”

Q: “Go where?”

Isabel Flores

“To Belize City. I was the first Garifuna to roam Belize with drum. They took me to Belize and I start to play for Belize, play for Belize, play for Belize until lately. When I get Caribs to be conscious of their own type, now I have no space. Those days they were afraid to show that they are Caribs. I was ashamed also because every time I go there they called me “Kerob, Kerob”. We don’t like to hear that. Mr. Vernon Leslie got on my back; Mr. Leslie was at Bliss and they sent for me about a week or so and we sat down and started to discuss about this Carib business. So I get it to be perfect. I was the first one that started to take a group from here.”

Q: “What is the significance of this drum to you?”

Isabel Flores

“Many things in this drum you see here because this drum, it can send message, you can call someone with it; you can do all kinds of things with it.”

Diane Haylock

“Send a message for me.”

(Demonstration)

Q: “Could you demonstrate a little of the different Garifuna songs, like the punta, jonkunu for instance?

(Demonstrations)

Q: “How many students have you had?”

Isabel Flores

“Well I couldn’t count them. When any one of them got the mind of learning and come along, I have the patience sometimes to teach them.”

Mr. Flores explained that there are two basic drums in Garifuna music: the primero and the segundo or base. Accompanied by a friend and past student Albert Lucas, he demonstrates the blending of the two sounds.

(Demonstration)

Isabel Flores is getting on in years now but during his heyday he gained national and international recognition for his mastery of the drums. Perhaps largely due to his role in passing on the tradition, the ancestral drums are beating on, however, in recent years to the tune of different drummers whose sounds and rhythms appear destined to bridge ethnic divide in Belize.

That story, produced by Great Belize Productions, first aired on the television show Belize All Over.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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