Punta in a Nutshell

Punta, and well, Garifuna music in general has been on my mind a lot lately. Been sifting through old Folkways recordings, attempting to connect the dots to contemporary Youtube uploads, and am pretty obsessively on the hunt for anything related to this rhythm and dance that I can get my hands on. The only thing I’ve posted so far on the subject, a strange mutant tribal track with a rooster holler seemed like kind of a bad start, but in a certain sense it’s actually the best–for part of the tradition of punta stems from a dance which is modeled after cock-and-hen mating, with couples moving their feet and hips, while their torsos remain rigid*.

Black Carib Band #4 – Punta (from VA – The Black Caribs of Honduras Folkways 1952)

While punta in electronic forms and pop music didn’t really take off until the 1980s in Central American countries like Belize, Honduras, and Guatemala, it’s roots go back to the indigenous people of the Caribbean, the Caribs, as well as West Africa. The rhythm of punta, as well as the steps involved, is a hybrid that is associated with the slaves brought across the Atlantic, and the Caribs who were already there. There are important elements from both cultures in the formation of this music, and this Folkways record from the early 50s, The Black Caribs of Honduras, is a good starting point for understanding that. The word punta is said to have been a latinization of the word bunda, a rhythm from West Africa and also the word for buttocks in the Mandé language*, and there are two sides to these recordings. The Caribs mainly used their “proto-punta” rhythms for ceremonial and religious purposes, while the secular dance can be traced back to Africa. On the Folkways disc, you have both contexts using similar rhythms, and the people making the sound are of both cultures. Music and dance created by colonization, wow who would have thought?

One of the main reasons I decided to do this post: I recently missed the Turtle Shell Band, some of the main originators of punta rock preform here in Chicago. This was basically the beginning of punta as popular music, and in the late 70s,  young Garifuna people in Belize were combining rhythms from their ancestors with politically charged lyrics. As you can guess, synthesizers were added to the mix during this time, and eventually DJ friendly punta would be born.

It’s important to note how varied punta can be in relation to where you hear it. In Belize, it’s generally sung in Kriol or Garifuna, but in Honduras, Guatemala, and diasporic communities in the states, it’s generally in Spanish. Then again, this isn’t always the case–compare the first embedded video with this one here. Both are from Honduras.

But then again, so is this one…jumping around both rhythmically and linguistically. Expect a lot more music, videos, and info as I wrap my head around all this.

*Greene, Oliver N., Jr. 2004. Ethnicity, modernity, and retention in the Garifuna punta. Black Music Research Journal 22, no. 2: 189-216. (except here).

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One Response to Punta in a Nutshell

  1. Nice post –

    I lived in Honduras for a while collecting and studying music, and punta is an interesting case. There’s a lot of disagreement about the “traditional” roots of punta, but Aurelio Martinez says that its based on a hand-clapping rythmn called “bangidi.” In Honduras at least, punta is most popular with non-Garifuna mestizos, and there’s a big difference in sound between the cheesy mestizo bands like los Roland and Silver Star, which will have one garifuna dude on percussion, and the all-Garifuna bands that sing in Garifuna, like Kazzabe or Fuerza Garifuna. The punta sound in Honduras is also more merengue-inflected than the Belizean stuff.

    But honestly, in the actual Garifuna towns and villages, the stuff coming out of people’s steroes is mostly parranda – a rootsier, bluesier, guitar based sound. Kind of rare for the “authentic” so-called “roots music” to be more popular than the hype dance shit but that’s my experience. Sielpa and Los Nietos de Maraza are popular. Also, inexplicably, crappy American country music.

    Hit me up with your email and I can send you some tracks if you are interested.

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