Music of the Garifuna, 2 of 4

Punta Gorda is the southernmost town of Belize.  With a population of about 5000 people it is a bigger place than Hopkins and features a more diverse population.  Kekchi and Mopan Maya, Belizean Kriol , Chinese, Asian Indian and even some Middle Easterners all join the Garinagu on the town’s busy streets.  Punta Gorda is also home to two Belizean musical celebrities – Leela Vernon, the “Queen of Brukdown,” a kriol musical style, and Paul Nabor, a Garifuna guitar player and singer who sadly passed away a couple of years ago.  As my own interest in visiting the town was to learn about traditional Garifuna drumming styles, I sought out a man by the name of Phillip “Subas” Nicholas, a well-known drum teacher in the town back in the early 2000s.

Subas was great.  He was a patient, clear drum teacher, and he and his wife Sherraine were wonderful hosts, eager to share what they knew of Garifuna culture and their country and town.  Many an hour I would spend in their modest home out the outskirts of town learning drum patterns or recording, or just plain hanging out.  The following track features Subas and Sherraine playing drums and singing, and John Flores playing shaker, on a song titled Sarah Sarah.  The language is Garifuna.  The drums are the two typical of a Belizean Garifuna drum combo: the primera (the higher-pitched lead drum responsible for the rolls and fills), and the segunda (the lower-pitched, larger drum which holds down the basic beat).

(Recorded March 24, 2002)

This next track is an interesting one.  “Good Neighbor/Bad Neighbor” I found exceptional on two levels.  One, it features English lyrics (which are pretty darn funny actually), which might point to an origin that is not strictly Garifuna (this is pure conjecture on my part); and two, the dichotomy explored in the lyrics is actually reflected in the song structure:  That is, the drum pattern alternates between a hungu-hungu and a punta (punta being probably the most common of all Garifuna drum/dance rhythms, and has evolved into an amplified, pop music style, punta rock, that can be heard throughout the Caribbean and beyond).  This, I should point out, is a structure that I have only heard performed by Subas.

Lead singer and primera player Subas is here accompanied by Clifford Rosa (segunda), John Flores (shaker), Senovia Nicholas, Julia Nicholas and Sheraine Petillo (vocals).

(Recorded March 22, 2002)

* * *

Subas was instrumental in arranging a recording session with some of the ladies in town who perform a woman’s a capella song style known as abeimahani.  The performers (Andrea Gabriel, Dominica E. Lambey, Catalina Casimiro, Genevieve Ramirez and Julia Nicholas) were sweet and enthusiastic – eager to record what they deemed to be a disappearing musical style.  After the excruciatingly slow process of renting a car and gathering up the performers from their homes to take them to Subas’s sister’s house to record, we all had some brandy and milks and proceeded to have a fine time of it.  This was definitely among my most enjoyable recording sessions.


Abeimahani is described as a song of welcome. It is semi-religious in nature and most often performed in the initials stages of the dugu ceremony.  It is traditionally performed by the women, standing in line, with hands joined and arms swinging in time to the music.  There is a men’s equivalent to the abeimahani, the arumuhani, but in Belize this form seems to have disappeared completely.  In contrast to the abeimahani, which the present performers characterize as consistently good-natured, “nice” songs, the arumuhani was apparently quite risqué.

This is a recording of an abeimahani song titled Ineru:

(Recorded December 17, 2003)


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