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Boston Globe, 9/9/01
Expecting salsa, you get punta rock
By David Wildman, Globe Correspondent

 

Boston Globe, 9/9/01

ON THE RISE

Expecting salsa, you get punta rock
By David Wildman, Globe Correspondent, 9/9/2001

Omar Suazo, the toast of his native Honduras and an innovator of a style of music known as punta rock, tours the world regularly but rarely plays in Boston, where he now lives.

''It is difficult to sell booking agents here on this music,'' said Suazo's wife Cindy Suazo, who is also his manager.

The crowds that come out for Latin music around here are expecting to hear more of a merengue style, but punta is very different.

Suazo, 30, plays the music of the Garifunas, a rich mix of African, Arawak, French, Spanish, and black Caribbean people who originally lived on the island of St. Vincent, north of Venezuela, and who were deported in the early 18th century to Honduras and Belize in Central America.

Punta is the percussive upbeat music played at Garifuna funerals, where, according to Suazo's percussionist Alvaro Castillo, the music blesses the soul.

Punta continues to be played in Honduras and Belize, with lyrics sung in Honduras generally in Spanish and in English in Belize. Punta rock comes from the more westernized Belize version, which uses electric guitar and bass.

While Suazo does use electric instruments, he is determined to sing in neither Spanish nor English but to uphold the tradition of the original Garifuna language, which he admits can lead to confusion with the local Latin crowd that speaks mostly Spanish.

''People around here really like this music when they are hearing it for the first time, people from Honduras, Guatemala, and even Americans,'' said Suazo. Still, it can be difficult bringing something new to the community.

In addition to the language barrier, the music itself sounds remarkably different from salsa and merengue. Drum triplets charge along at a breakneck pace while the bass hits staccato downbeats. This contrasts with Latin styles, where the bass tends to play the role of the rhythmic spoiler, accenting mostly the upbeats to give the music a complex, unbalanced feel.

It is, however, an effect that Latin music dancers are used to moving to, though the unfamiliar language combined with the unusual rhythm necessitates learning a different dance style.

Suazo has become an ambassador of both the Garifuna language and the dance, teaching from the stage, sometimes holding workshops in cities where the group plays. A Garifuna community organization in Nicaragua paid him to travel there to teach the roots of the culture.

Suazo writes and plays original music in the Garifuna language. His latest CD release is called ''Tanari Mama'' and is a tribute to his mother, who died six months ago.

Omar Suazo and his 15-member punta rock band will appear in a rare local performance today, 2 p.m., at the Jamaica Plain World's Fair on the main stage in Hyde Square. Call 617-522-2424, ext. 255, for information.

This story ran on page 14 of the Boston Globe's City Weekly section on 9/9/2001.
Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.