Festival Audio: Teaching Garifuna Music and Language

Garifuna dance party at the One World, Many Voices stage. Photo by Elisa Hough

A crowd favorite at the 2013 Folklife Festival was the Garifuna drumming and dance group. No matter the time of day, pouring rain or blazing heat, they got the crowd on their feet, shaking to incessant rhythms of wooden drums and maracas.

Consisting of drummers Libaya Baba plus Wanaragua dancers and singers from Los Angeles and New York, the group represented the Garifuna people and language. The Garifuna are descendants of West Africans who, after being exiled from the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent in the eighteenth century, settled along the Atlantic coast of Central America. With about 90,000 speakers, located mostly in Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Honduras, the Garifuna language, dance, and music was named a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2001.

Listen to singer and educator James Lovell explain how he uses music to teach Garifuna language to young people and help preserve his culture. A live recording of the full band is included:

Festival Audio – Teaching Garifuna Music and Language


Some resources on Garifuna culture:

Elisa Hough is a web production intern at Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. She holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from the University of Southern California and believes in the healing powers of a good dance party.