During his childhood in Belize, bassist Al Ovando grew up surrounded by music. His father played guitar and he and his brothers had a family band. Even as a child, Ovando took the reins, setting up equipment and tending to instruments that needed repair. Now, as an adult, he's the bandleader of the pioneering Garifuna Collective, a renowned music group that has taken the music of the Belizean Garifuna people around the world.
The Garifuna culture traces its roots to West and Central African, Island Carib, Arawak, and European origins. Their music is an eclectic blend of all these influences and the sound of multiple diasporas. You can hear that history in the music of the Garifuna Collective. "We represent the soulfulness of the Garifuna culture and the soulfulness of the message of how the Belizean Garifuna people live, [as well as] Belizeans as a whole."
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Ovando says live music plays a significant role in people's lives, but the Garifuna Collective is among the first major acts to break out of the Central American nation. Perhaps its greatest contribution is providing a foundation upon which other Belizean musicians can share their music with an even wider audience. "All the band members understand the mission, what they want to share with the world... but the bigger mission for us is to keep doing what we are doing and set up a platform for other Belizeans coming behind." He says that involves mentoring musicians not only when it comes to the actual music, but on administrative aspects as well, from navigating the logistics of touring to doing interviews. "There is nobody in Belize who has ever done this on this level," he says. "We are pioneers when it comes to... bringing the awareness to this vast world."
The Garifuna Collective has played Miami before but to a mostly Belizean crowd. He calls the sets "educational fun." Attendees will dance, he says, but more important, "our story should be something they should leave with and appreciate."
The Garifuna Collective. 8:30 p.m. Saturday, January 27, and 3 p.m. Sunday, January 28, at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium, 2901 W. Flagler St., Miami; 305-547-5414; miamidadecountyauditorium.org. Tickets cost $27 via ticketmaster.com.