Aurelio: Sharing Garifuna culture and music

Musician at heart. | Photo by Katia Paradis

Musician at heart. | Photo by Katia Paradis

Honduras-based musician Aurelio will be performing various styles of Garifuna music, an integral part of the coastal Garifuna culture, on Jan. 31 at St. James Hall. While the songs are his own, Aurelio seeks to display and share the sound of his culture rather than his own voice as an individual.

Hailing from Honduras, Aurelio Martinez has taken on a role as a kind of representative of Garifuna culture through sharing his music worldwide. Even as a child, Aurelio was met with early praise for his music. Coming from a very musical family in Plaplaya, Honduras, his father having been a well-known troubadour, Aurelio learned how to sing from his mother. His uncles and his grandfather taught him how to play drums, the central element to Garifuna music, to which Aurelio gravitated and excelled at from a young age.

“From as young as eight, nine, ten years old, I was really good at Garifuna drum playing,” says Aurelio.

While most children were not even allowed in various sacred ceremonies, Aurelio could be seen performing at such events. By 14, he was considered a respectable Garifuna musician, well-versed in the culture and its music.

Since then, Aurelio has continued to grow as a musician, improving his musical ability by branching out into playing with latin ensembles, and eventually releasing GrupoGarifuna de Honduras with his band LitaAriran, a watershed for recorded Garifuna music. He has since released four other solo and collaborative albums, toured internationally and performed with the likes of English R&B chanteuse Joss Stone and afropop legend YoussouN’Dour.

“Since I am a more international artist, for many here, Joss Stone is known better than me. So seeing this young artist from the U.K. here in our community, to see Joss Stone singing in Garifuna language, we’re surprised!” says Aurelio.

Keeping Garifuna culture alive

Spreading Garifuna music. | Photo by Sofia Verzbolovski

Spreading Garifuna music. | Photo by Sofia Verzbolovski

The Garifuna are people of Amerindian and West African descent who live along the coasts of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Since having been displaced from St. Vincent (in the West Indies) in 1796, they have struggled to hold onto culture, with food and music being the most central elements. With the Garifuna being a minority group in Honduras, it can be hard enough to keep the culture alive and well even within the country.

For Aurelio, although it is fame that helps his ultimate goal of sharing his people’s culture and music for the world to hear, his musical success has never been a matter of personal accomplishment.

“Our music isn’t individual, it’s community. When we write a song, we don’t see it as ‘somebody’ writing it. I don’t try to be a star; my music isn’t talking about ‘Aurelio Martinez,’ it’s about the Garifuna nation. It’s powerful music,” explains Aurelio.

While politics wasn’t originally seen as an option, a local mayor eventually encouraged Aurelio, being an already-prominent figure to run for congress. Aurelio ended up winning, becoming the first Black congressman in Honduras, serving a four-year term in Honduran congress and doing his best to promote Garifuna culture. After a time, he decided politics wasn’t his calling.

“I tried to do my best to make change for our community,” he says. “But politics isn’t for me.”

In the end, Aurelio returned to his musical roots and has continued to tour and share Garifuna culture and music with the world.

“We’re not going to let this culture die. I know I must continue my ancestors’ legacy and find new ways to express it. Few people know about it, but I adore it, and it’s something I must share with the world,” he says.

For more information on the event, visit

For more on Aurelio, visit