From Belize | Lebeha Drummers: Biama (May 19, 2023 / Neuma Records)

From Belize
Lebeha Drummers: Biama
(May 19, 2023 / Neuma Records)

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It may be impossible to sit still while listening to the Lebeha Drummers of Belize. Biama showcases their work, and the Garifuna culture. 

Lebeha Drummers: Biama

The tracks blend traditional songs with those written by members of the group and their contemporaries. 

The Lebeha Drummers are:

  • Jabbar Lambey: Segunda
  • Warren Martinez: Vocals, Primero, Shakkas, Turtle Shells
  • Clayton Williams: Vocals, Segunda, Primero, Shakkas
  • Additional Vocals and Claves: Marcela Torres 

The Garinagu

In 1635, a ship was wrecked off the coast of St. Vincent in the Lesser Antilles. It would change the culture of the region forever. 

The ship's hold was full of West and Central Africans who were destined for slave markets in the Caribbean. Instead, they swam ashore and began lives as freed peoples among the Arawak and other Indigenous Caribbeans peoples. Their culture and language (the written version of which is fairly recent), cuisine and clothing are still distinctive, centuries later in Belize as well as parts of Honduras, Nicaragua and the US. 

The music 

The Lebeha Drumming Center of Hopkins Village in Belize was formed in 2003 by Jabbar Lambey and Dorothy Pettersen as a way of preserving Garifuna culture. Their first album was released in 2005. Almost two decades later, some of those same kids - now adults, of course - are professional musicians. 

International fans helped bankroll the new recording at at Stonetree Studios near the Guatemalan border.

The music is based on strong rhythmic patterns, common in West and Central African cultures, and includes vocals and drums, with the additon of calabash shakers and turtle shells on some tracks. 

Traditional rhythms are used: punta, paranda, chumba, wanaragua, and hüngühüngü. The Lebeha Drummers always play unplugged in the traditional manner.

The release is an expression of a culture that has refused to become assimilated through four centuries. One of the original songs by Clayton Williams sums up the sense of defiance and pride: Garifuna Nuguya (I Am Garifuna).