Jazz vocalist Lucy Blanco singing at Bushnell Park, Hartford, CT sponsored by Hartford Jazz Society.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

The Afri-Garifuna Jazz Ensemble is officially launching its debut album “Taguiera” (Homeland) at the Bronx Music Heritage Center, 1303 Louis Nine Blvd., Bronx from 1 pm-4 pm on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016.

The afternoon is really a celebration of Garifuna culture. Along with Garifuna artwork on display, Garifuna eats will delight the palate with foods for sale prepared by Garifuna chef and restaurateur Melissa Pan.

The Afri-Garifuna Jazz Ensemble will perform a full set of selections from the CD at the free family-friendly event, starting around 2 pm.

How it all began. The idea of fusing musical elements from Lucy Blanco’s Garifuna roots with jazz had been percolating for a while. “I was looking for a Garifuna drummer to join with a jazz band in order to bring these genres together,” she said.

After half a lifetime in Los Angeles, this jazz vocalist returned to the east coast and not long after, she met master Garifuna drummer, multi-instrumentalist James Lovell. He was enthusiastically receptive to idea. In 2011, the serious collaboration for the Afri-Garifuna Jazz Ensemble was on.

The Biko Center in Bushwick became a base to nurture the nascent band where they played regular gigs and the seeds of recording a CD were planted. Veteran musicians brought their own unique sensibility to the ensemble. On the albums’ 12 tracks, they perform original compositions and jazz standards weaving Garifuna rhythms of punta, paranda and hungu hungu into the fabric of the music.

Traditional folk instruments such as primero and segundo (Garifuna drums), maracas, conch and turtle shells, alongside piano, bass, saxophone and trap drums add great texture to this tapestry of sounds.

The Afri-Garifuna Jazz Ensemble just before their outdoor concert as headliners at Bushnell Park in Hartford, CT, this past summer.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

The concept of the CD is to take the listener from the beginning of the Garifuna journey, to the exile, to the migration to the United States with its American musical influences.

On the eponymous first track opening song —Taguiera—Lovell tells the story about the exile from the Garifuna homeland of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

On the popular genre Maria Maria track, Blanco sings in Spanish and Lovell in the Arawak-based Garifuna language. Garifuna musical elements are a part of the interpretation of the jazz “Take Five” and Blanco’s singing of “Summertime” in Garifuna, adds new dimensions to this jazz standard.

The traditional Alugudaheina (Asking) and Gurasa (Endurance) blend Garifuna and jazz. Tracks are instrumental-only with additional tracks adding Garifuna vocals. The CD ends with “Journey” that highlights a vocal passage composed by violinist Eva Lou Vossmerbauemer.

The Afri-Garifuna Jazz performs around town to diverse audiences and has been artists-in-residence at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

The Bronx Music Heritage Center (BMHC) celebrates the rich history and creative spirit that defines Bronx music, from jazz, salsa, R&B and hip hop to new sounds and is ever a big supporter of the Afri-Garifuna Jazz Ensemble. With 100,000 people identifying as Garifuna living in the Bronx, the largest Garifuna population outside of the settlement villages in Central America, this center is a perfect venue to launch “Taguiera “(Homeland).

Multi-instrumentalist James Lovell is a a Belizean-born Garifuna musician, historian, educator and cultural activist who co-founded the Afri-Garifuna Jazz Ensemble. Here he performs at Hartford’s outdoor Monday Night Jazz series.
Photo by Tequila Minsky

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