James Lovell is a cultural ambassador who preserves traditional Garifuna music, dance and language, sharing it with audiences around the world. He is a passionate educator, activist, a storyteller and a multi-instrumentalist — including percussion, guitars, voice, clarinet, sax and euphonium.
He grew up in Dangriga, Belize, deeply rooted in his Garifuna heritage.
The Garifuna are an indigenous group born of the mixing of Africans — who were never enslaved — with the native Carib and Arawak peoples of the Caribbean on the island of St. Vincent.
In 1795, they were condemned to perish on the island of Roatán, Honduras but rather than perish, they settled along the coastline of Central America — Honduras, then Belize, later Guatemala and Nicaragua. Their thriving culture is under threat as young Garifuna migrate primarily to major U.S. cities.
Inspired by Garifuna artist, “Pen” Cayetano, Lovell decided to pursue a music career, immigrating to the United States where he earned a bachelor’s degree in African Studies with a minor in music. In 1994, he co-founded the performing arts company Illagulei (Roots), created to preserve and promote Garifuna culture. Since 1995, he has released four albums and experimented with combining African and Garifuna music resulting in a genre he coined as Afri-Garifuna Rhythms, which forms the foundation of his Afri-Garifuna Jazz Ensemble.
Lovell has also developed a method of teaching the Garifuna language, history, dance, and customs through songs. The program, which includes, history, drumming and music theory, was implemented under UNESCO and the National Garifuna Council. In 2005 and 2008, he facilitated dance and music workshops in his hometown Dangriga.
Using his teaching methods in New York, Lovell directed the Afrigarifuna Youth Ensemble for children ages six-14.
In 2013, he was a featured artist at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.
Lovell reintroduced the Garifuna culture back to its roots in St. Vincent and the Grenadines leading children and young adults in a cultural and retrieval program called Yugacure. He also teaches an annual Garifuna nursery rhyme workshop in Belize.
As part of his endeavors to highlight language preservation of endangered cultures worldwide, he is currently collaborating with the Breton people of France.
And most recently, this culture activist has worked on projects with the D.C.-based organization Sustainable Development and Climate Change (SUDECC) using his artistic skills and pedagogical endeavors to safeguard Garifuna music, dance and language.
Lovell is employed by the New York Board of Education, where he works with severely emotionally challenged elementary and high school students.