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    “It's a huge responsibility to be the spokesperson for the Garifuna culture,” said the musician, warning about its possible extinction. | Photo: Facebook / Richard Holder

For Black History Month, teleSUR looks at the work of a Garifuna artist helping to keep his heritage alive in Honduras.

Aurelio Martinez, a voice of the Garifuna — afro-descendants in Honduras — released his fourth album on Jan. 20, titled, “Darandi,” which he described to teleSUR as "reflecting 30 years of my musical career," from the time he was playing drums in the streets to the live recording of this last album in the U.K.

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“At that time, my people did not believe that a Garifuna artist could be internationally famous,” he said over the phone from New York, where the artist sought shelter at his mother's house, after the 2009 coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya. A wave of violence and systematic human rights violations followed the coup, leading to a large number of almost 100,000 Garifunas emigrating to New York, and taking up residence mostly in the Bronx.

“My challenge is to give to the young Garifunas a little bit of pride for their culture; they usually prefer other cultures because there is no positive example among the Garifunas,” he told teleSUR.

At home or at school, the Garifuna culture is not easily passed on to children, although since UNESCO declared the Garifuna language an “Intangible Heritage of Humanity” in 2001, the state was forced to develop bilingual schools.

The recent surge of evangelism has also largely contributed to the near extinction of the culture, said Aurelio, as the church has a zero tolerance policy against any sign of syncretism with other cultures and religions, de facto erasing aspects of the Garifuna heritage.

Aurelio, however, was lucky to grow up in a family of musicians and in a community that followed most of the Garifuna traditions.

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“When I was eight, I was already a skilled drummer and could negotiate my participation in traditional ceremonies where only seniors were allowed,” he recalled playfully. “Drums gave me the power to 'blackmail' the seniors of my community and learn about my culture from a very young age.”

“It's a huge responsibility to be the spokesperson for the Garifuna culture,” he added. “My music is not just made for the dance floor, I also wish to spark social changes," he added.

Shortly after he released his first album in 2005, he was encouraged by his supporters to get involved in the country's politics and subsequently was elected to Congress and served from 2006-2010, becoming the first Garifuna lawmaker in history. The experience was disappointing, he told teleSUR, because of the corrupt game of politics in Honduras.

Aurelio's new album is available at Real World Records, Amazon.com, iTunes and Spotify.


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