Friday, January 25, 2008

Joseph Palacio: In Memory of Andy Palacio

[Received by e-mail from Dr. Joseph Palacio in Belize, Friday, 25 Jan. 2008]

Andy Palacio – some reflections

In the past few days we have heard much about Andy Palacio as the musical icon. I would like to share a few words about Andy Palacio as the product of the Garifuna community of Barranco and the larger emerging nation of Belize.

The questions I am raising include – what was the community setting that gave birth to such a great person? What were some of the incubating factors that nourished the artistic talents of Andy? How did his immediate family – mother, father, and assorted relatives – give form to the potential in the child Andy Palacio so that he could climb to the highest pinnacle of world artistic achievement? Can his home community continue to produce geniuses? Finally what lessons did he pass on to the Garifuna community; and, indeed, the world at large?

The family tree of Andy Palacio endowed him with the seed that would grow as a baby and slowly develop the gift with which he was born. Let me mention some of the family surnames of his ancestors. They include from his father’s side the Palacio, Cayetano, Marin, Cesario (or Antonio), and Zuniga; from his mother’s side Avilez and Contreras.

Around the time when Andy was born in 1960 his home village was passing through probably the last phase of an economic boom generated by farming and fishing. His father excelled in these two ways of earning a livelihood. More especially Ruben, his father, was a man of the sea. He carved and repaired his own dories and produced his fishing gear, while being an expert on navigation and the coastline from Punta Gorda to Livingston.

In day and night and under all kinds of weather conditions, Ruben was able to travel wherever he wanted to go and come back home safely. Ruben took along young Andy with him on his fishing and other sea-faring trips. From such experiences in his early formative years, Andy developed a great love and adoration for his father. He learned to appreciate the bounty of the sea and coastline. Furthermore, he acquired much self-confidence and a determination to hold his own whether in good or bad weather. I would add that he also learned to appreciate music and singing from his father, who was a walking collection of songs in Garifuna, English, Spanish, and Latin. From his mother, the anchor who held the family together, he received the highest form of love and respect for the immediate and extended family, which included the whole village. During these early years, therefore, Andy acquired his abiding sense of rootedness in people and things Garifuna.

What was the cultural environment in Barranco that influenced Ruben Palacio and, which he in turn, passed on to young Andy? Music, singing, and dancing formed a continuous sound track within the village. Almost everyone could create songs and then popularize them during the several festivities taking place in the annual calendar. One of the main instigators had been S.B. Daniels, the village schoolmaster who taught music as seriously as he did writing, reading, and arithmetic. All of Daniels’ students were introduced to the best of music at that time available in the colony of British Honduras. And Ruben passed this treasure to his son Andy.

Can the home village continue to produce geniuses like Andy? In my usual sense of optimism, my answer is yes. Of course, the economic life of the village has declined very much since the 1960s. But there still remains among the members of the community a vibrant musical tradition that needs to be studied extensively and revitalized. Andy himself was doing exactly this kind of revival as seen in the global success of the world acclaimed album ‘Wátina’. In ‘Wátina’ Andy was integrating traditional Garifuna music into contemporary form. A continuation of this exercise would have been his next concerted effort, as he continued to re-discover what had been his daily nourishment in the village.

Having been incubated in that very supportive cultural environment of Barranco, Andy’s short life has been a bundle of lessons for the Garifuna community, our beloved Jewel, Belize; and indeed the world at large. They include hard work, perseverance, perfectionism, and carrying one’s greatness with a deep sense of humility. Let us not forget that in his earlier life Andy was a trained primary school teacher and that through his music he was also teaching many positive values to the rest of the world. His greatest legacy to all of us will be the lessons he championed throughout his artistic life.

Joseph O. Palacio

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Mourn Only That You Will Not See Andy Again in this Life

Andy Palacio had such a brilliant and soaring 2007 that few would have expected such a drastic change in 2008, with his departure from our little scene. Many people, let alone his close family and friends, will be heartbroken by his departure. It is in moments like these that I remember the wise words of the late Carib Queen, Justa Werges, when she said, with a smile and light in her eyes as if seeing far into the distance: "My people live in a green valley and they have prepared a home for me with them. When I leave this earth I will be surrounded by the beautiful faces of my people and I will live with them forever in that valley". Andy Palacio has gone on to join his loved ones, his ancestors, all those he knew that have passed on, and his music in that other place is now more wonderful than ever. Sad are those who are left behind to wait for the day when they too can sing with Andy.

So say it loud and let it ring
We are all a part of everything
The future, present and the past
Fly on proud bird
You're free at last.

(Charlie Daniels)

Good men must die, but death can not kill their names.

Andy Palacio Passes On

Belizean Musician Andy Palacio Passes Away After Heart Attack and Stroke

January 19, 2008 - Andy Palacio, an iconic musician and cultural activist in his native Belize and impassioned spokesperson for the Garifuna people of Central America, was declared dead tonight at 9pm Belize time due to a massive and extensive stroke to the brain, a heart attack and respiratory failure due to the previous two conditions.

Palacio, 47, started feeling poorly last week and eventually visited a doctor with complaints of dizziness and blurred vision. On the 16th of January, he began experiencing seizures and was rushed to a hospital in Belmopan, Belize and then on to another hospital in Belize City. At this point, most people were hopeful Palacio would recover.

On January 17th, Palacio's condition worsened and he began experiencing more seizures. He was placed on an air ambulance to Chicago where he was expected to get treatment at one of the premier neurological facilities in the country. En route to Chicago, the plane stopped in Mobile, Alabama to clear immigration. At that point, Palacio was unconscious and it was determined that he was too ill to continue on the flight to Chicago. He was rushed to a hospital in Mobile, and placed on life support. There, doctors determined that the damage to his brain function was severe, and that his chances of recovery were slim. On January 18th, his family requested that he be flown back to Belize so that he might die in his homeland.

A national hero in Belize for his popular music and advocacy of Garifuna language and culture, news of Palacio's condition sent shockwaves through the community. At 5pm today, a public service was held in Belize City for Palacio as people prayed for his recovery. Ceremonies were also held by Garifuna spiritual leaders in an effort to help with the situation. Belize is in the midst of a heated election, but the local news was entirely dominated by Palacio's health crisis.

The reaction has also been strong around the world. Until the recent turn of events, the past year had been one of tremendous accomplishment for Palacio as his album Wátina, which was released at the beginning of 2007, had become one of the most critically acclaimed recordings of the year in any genre. Perhaps the most unanimously revered world music album in recent memory, Wátina appeared on dozens of Best of the Year lists in major media outlets around the globe and was roundly praised in glowing terms.

In 2007, Palacio was named a UNESCO Artist for Peace and won the prestigious WOMEX Award. Wátina was also nominated for the BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards. At home in Belize, the international success of Wátina has sparked a revival of Garifuna music, as young musicians have become inspired by Palacio's example. Even in the days since Palacio's health crisis began, the accolades have continued to pour in for his work.

That Palacio has been struck down at a moment of such international acclaim only increases the sense of shock and tragedy felt at his sudden and untimely death.

Andy Palacio will be honored with an official state funeral. A massive tribute concert is planned in Belize City on Friday, January 25th.

Friends and supporters are invited to post messages in memory of Andy Palacio to his MySpace page ( as well as to the blog of his international record label Cumbancha (