The music of Belize is heavily influenced by the syncopated beats of Africa as they combine with modern sounds from throughout Latin America, the Caribbean, and North America.
The most popular Belizean music is punta, a fusion of traditional Garifuna rhythms and modern electric instruments. The “Ambassador of Punta Rock” was Andy Palacio, a prolific musician from the southern village of Barranco, who died in 2008 and was honored as a national hero. The newer form of punta is characterized by driving, repetitive dance rhythms and has its acoustic roots in a type of music called “paranda.” A recent PBS special described paranda as “nostalgic ballads coupling acoustic guitar with Latin melodies and raw, gritty vocals… which can feature traditional Garifuna percussion like wood blocks, turtle shells, forks, bottles, and nails.” A few of the original paranda masters, like Paul Nabor in Punta Gorda, can still be found in their hometowns throughout Belize. Several excellent compilation albums of Belizean and Honduran punta and paranda music are available from Stonetree Records.
Brukdown (or “Bruckdong”) began in the timber camps of the 1800s, when the workers, isolated from civilization for months at a time, would let off steam by drinking a full bottle of rum and then beating on the empty bottle—or the jawbone of an ass, a coconut shell, or a wooden block—anything that made a sound. Add to that a harmonica, guitar, and banjo, and you’ve got the unique sound of brukdown. This is a traditional Creole rhythm kept alive by the legendary Mr. Peters and his Boom and Chime band until Mr. Peters passed away in 2010 at the age of 79.
Over the last five years, dub-poetry has emerged as an important format for musical expression in Belize. The most popular artist of this is Leroy “The Grandmaster” Young, whose album Just Like That is a wonderful listening experience and has been acclaimed by numerous international reviewers.
In the southern part of Belize, you’ll likely hear the strains of ancient Maya melodies played on homemade wooden instruments, including Q’eqchi’ harps, violins, and guitars. In Cayo District in the west, listen for the resonant sounds of marimbas and wooden xylophones—from the Latin influence across the Guatemala border. In the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts in the north, Mexican ranchera and romantica music is extremely popular. Of course reggae is popular throughout the country, especially on the islands (Bob Marley is king in Belize).
Stonetree Records (www.stonetreerecords.com) has the most complete catalogue of truly Belizean music, covering a wide range of musical genres and styles. This author’s favorite is Belize City Boil-Up, an incredibly funky collection of remastered vintage Belizean soul tracks from the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, featuring The Lord Rhaburn Combo, Jesus Acosta and the Professionals, The Web, Harmonettes, Nadia Cattouse, and Soul Creations. From the record’s description, “In a Belizean musical landscape that is currently dominated by punta, rap, and reggae, it’s easy to forget that there was actually a time when the Belizean scene was alive with cool jazz, smooth rhythm and blues, and even psychedelic funk.”
In addition to recording and marketing dozens of albums, Stonetree, based in Benque Viejo in western Belize, is also very active in encouraging new Belizean musicians to experiment and develop their individual sounds. Buy albums online, or pick up a couple of CDs at any gift shop during your visit.
© Joshua Berman and Avalon Travel from Moon Belize, 9th Edition