Greensboro, N.C. — Aurelio Martinez grew up in Plaplaya, a small coastal village in eastern Honduras. Because of its isolation, it has stayed a stronghold for the customs and culture of the Garifuna people.
Aurelio, who sings and plays guitar, has become their unofficial ambassador. Known for his wide smile, easy laugh and infectious personality, he projects pure passion when discussing the unique world of the Garifuna.
“Our culture has its own language, food, dance, and everything, but music is our life,” Aurelio says. “For everything that happens in the Garifuna community, we have music.
“The spiritual nature of our music is very important to us. So when you listen to Garifuna music, even if you don’t understand our world, you’re going to feel our spirit.”
The Garifuna came into being during the 1600s when shipwrecked West African slaves intermarried with native Arawak Indians on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. In 1796, colonial British forces relocated the Garifuna to Honduras, which has been their home ever since.
Since the early 1990s Aurelio has worked to raise awareness of the Garifuna people and their culture as both a musician and politician. Aurelio became the first black congressman in Honduran history. Ultimately, however, he decided he could accomplish more through musical outreach.
Along with friends and collaborators, Aurelio has brought Garifuna music to the world stage and forged a powerful connection linking its Latin origins with its African roots.
Aurelio’s first solo album, “Garifuna Soul” (released in 2004), earned him acclaim as “Newcomer of the Year” from Afropop Worldwide.
His next album, “Laru Beya” (2011) was made partly in Honduras and partly in Africa, providing a tangible link between Garifuna music and the mother continent.
His latest release, “Lándini” (2014), returned him to the festive sounds of paranda and songs relevant to Garifuna life.
“The more I have traveled and seen the world, the more I have seen the need to reconnect with my roots,” Aurelio has said. “The farther I go, the more I want to come back."
See Aurelio at The National Folk Festival NC in Greensboro Sept. 11-13.