Album Review: Garifuna Collective – Aban (Stonetree Records; September 2019)

Garifuna Collective are, as the name neatly explains, a multigenerational musical ‘family’, flying the flag for the Garifuna people, culture and language originating in the West Indies but planted in Belize. New album Aban (Stonetree Music), translating from the indigenous Garifuna language as ‘One’, sums up the call of the record for unity and heritage. You could also say the band do ‘one’ thing and do it well.

The Garifuna are an Afro-Latin people, originating on the Caribbean island of St Vincent. During the colonial period, they were exiled to the Caribbean coast of Central America, where communities exist in Honduras, Guatemala and, in the case of Garifuna Collective, Belize.

Exile and belonging are thus central to the Garifuna experience and the seductively mournful music on Aban.

Opener ‘Lugua’ (Lost) sets the feel of the record with a gravely vocal, layered percussion and a guitar drenched in tremolo. The album notes list ‘Garifuna drums’ and ‘turtle shells’, alongside more familiar percussion, like maracas and clave, and the tune has an organic reggaeton feel to it.

The rootsy vibe continues with ‘Wiya Waist’, which features the same folkloric percussion, more of that psychedelic guitar, and again, an acoustic reggaeton feel. There’s a definite ‘Island Sound’ preserved in Garifuna music that, on Aban, is blended with retro-Latin influences, like tropicalia from Brazil, which might explain the puzzling surf guitar.

We get a reggae lilt on ‘Hamala (Let him fly)’ but a rhythm that makes you want to salsa rather than skank.

Then, on ‘Ideruni’ (Help), we have a Latin clave rhythm, anchoring the tune alongside a reggae bass line.

It’s all very atmospheric and would sound great in a tropical taxi, windows down, or on a beat-up radio. However, in high fidelity, the songs are more exposed, and the similarity in tempo, key and mood means it’s all very one-note.

That said, Garifuna Collective sound like a great festival act. An EP would probably just have been enough.