Whether he's holding political office, or touring internationally, Honduran musician Aurelio Martinez has devoted his life to promoting the culture of the Garifuna people. Descendants of African slaves and indigenous Caribbean peoples, the Garifuna represent an oft-marginalized minority in Honduras, Guatemala and Belize.
Martinez has the talent to become a major international star on the level of Gilberto Gil, or Youssou N'Dour. But with less than 200,000 Garifuna speakers worldwide, he may lack the necessary base to catapult him to that status. Aurelio remains undaunted in the face of that challenge, and he's set on winning as many new fans as possible and welcoming them into his "Garifuna Nation." Despite the linguistic obstacles Aurelio's interpretation of Garifuna music is irresistible, combining the best elements of West African and Latin American music traditions.
I caught up with Aurelio after his impassioned performance at Lotus Fest this weekend.
NUVO: Tell me about you new album Lándini.
Aurélio Martinez: When you hear this album, it's like coming into my house and sitting down with my family. Almost everyday I would sit down and play music with my mom. My mom is a big mentor to me. This album was inspired by my mom and our relationship. My mom had a dream to be an artist, but my grandmother didn't like that idea and my mother could not fulfill her dream. When my mother sees me perform, and sees my success in music it completes her dream. So I did this album for her and her story.
NUVO: You sacrificed pursuing your musical career for several years to serve a term in the Honduran congress. What is your political legacy in Honduras?
Martinez: I don't like the political life. But I wanted to create inclusion because we have a lot of discrimination in Honduras. I'm the first black man in the Honduran congress during the country's entire history. I tried to create inclusion for all the people who had faced discrimination. The rich people had representation in the government, but the indigenous, the blacks, the poor, and the farmers did not have representation.
NUVO: There have been many pop groups in Honduras who've scored hits by commercializing Garifuna rhythms, like punta. Do you think the commercialization of Garifuna music is a bad thing?
Martinez: The culture doesn't have to remain static. You can have both the traditional thing, and the commercial thing. But the problem for me is that many of these commercial bands use the Garifuna as tokens in their music. There's a black one in this band or that band, but we don't have commercial bands made of only black artists. People are making money off of Garifuna culture but our Garifuna people are living in poverty. I'm the first artist in Honduras to have a commercial band with all Garifuna musicians.
But I don't think it's bad thing that these popular bands are using Garifuna music. I invite all people to be a part of our Garifuna nation because we are losing our culture. UNESCO has declared the Garifuna culture as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, but that declaration is not enough. We need help to create schools to teach our culture to the younger generations. So I call to the United Nations and all people to help support this culture with us.
NUVO: Is there anything you'd like to say in regard to the crisis at the U.S. border with the Central American children ?
Martinez: I understand why people are trying to come to the United States. We have poverty in my country and a lot of people are suffering. But coming to the United States is not the solution. We have solutions for our problems in our own country. The United States has problems too. Many people in the U.S. are also struggling. A lot of our people are losing their lives in Mexico on their journey to the United States. So I try to tell my people to stop coming to the United States. We are losing our country to migration. I understand why they leave, there's too much corruption, and the politicians are doing bad things. But I think the people of Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala have the solutions to these problems within their own borders.
A Cultural Manifesto is now available on WFYI's HD2 radio. Tune in Wednesdays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 3 p.m. as NUVO's Kyle Long explores the merging of a wide variety of music from around the globe with American genres like hip-hop, jazz, and soul.