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Punta rock is unique in that it represents a musical form, a country (Belize) and a specific ethnic group (the Garifuna of Central America) simultaneously. At the same time, the beat and the dance that accompany it have universal appeal, and so punta rock has spread not only to the Garifuna diaspora in the U.S. and other countries, but across cultural lines.
Originally known as the Garinagu, the Garifuna are an amalgam of Carib, native Arawak and African people. They are said to have originated from intermarriage between Arawaks and Caribs on the island of Saint Vincent, then spread throughout costal Central America and the Lesser Antilles, where they further mixed with West Africans brought to the New World as slaves. The Garifuna are most heavily associated with Belize, a former British colony.
Given those diverse roots, punta music has always been a lively gumbo combining creole rhythms and heavy African percussion. This musical form developed during the late 1970s when a schism appeared between the traditional music, sung in the Garafuna language, and young Belizian musicians who spoke only English.
Pen Cayetano is the man most often credited for bridging that gap by adding guitars to the punta mix. This combination was then refined and embellished by Andy Palacio, another Belizean, who further electrified and animated the mix.
Often risque, punta rock tends to appeal to sexual energy, its trademark dance noted for its vigorous hip shaking. At concerts where punta rock is played, gyrating individuals share the dance floor with couples.
The beat and the music seem more important in this type of music than the lyrics, which are often sahouted repetitions of a single word or phrase in Kriol or Garifuna. At the same time, Palacio's final album, "Watina" (he died of a stroke on 19 January 2008), wove a more mellow pop sound in between the livelier cuts and took punta rock in yet another direction.
If you like reggae and calypso music, you will probably like punta rock. If you choose to emulate the classic punta dance, however, it might be a good idea to have a chiropractor on speed dial.
Punta rock is a unique type of music to play for music students who are interested in learning about music from around the world. My college music instructor introduced the class to punta rock when I was a freshman, and it made me want to learn about the music of other cultures.