Punta Music of the Garifuna

The Garifuna people are a diverse mixture of cultures that descend from Arawak, West Africa and Carib, and generally reside in Central America. Communities of Garifuna are located in Nicaragua, as well as in Belize, Honduras and Guatemala. Their heritage of dance, language and music was recognized by UNESCO in 2001 as Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in the countries of Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua. Corn Island, Nicaragua, was the venue for the first Garifuna Summit in 2005, and their culture, especially their music, is still alive in Nicaragua today.

The music of the Garifuna is very unique and the most well known genre of Garifuna music is Punta. It is a direct link to the ancient music of the Garifuna, which has evolved over the years. Some bands have modernized punta to reach out to the younger generation with a new genre called punta rock. Some of the artists that have been vital in the modernization of punta include Black Coral, Andy Palacio, Pen Cayetano and Children of the Most.

What has remained true to tradition, and is highly competitive, is punta dancing. All Garifuna celebrations are accompanied by dancing. Dancing typically consists of one couple that is encircled by other dancers, and while the couple in the middle dance, the rest clap their hands and sing to a traditional punta song, making use of various patterns, including call and response. These circular dances are referred to as hunguhungu and chumba, and the dance takes the form of a mating dance derived from the hen and cockerel. Most of the dance consists of hip movement, while keeping the upper body as still as possible. Couples with better hip movement are usually the winners.

Traditional punta music is played on string instruments, piano, brass and woodwind instruments. Since the 1980s, and the introduction of punta rock, bass guitars and synthesizers have also been combined into the new unique sound of punta. Lyrics are generally written by women. Punta is one of the few traditions to have survived the ages, even though it has changed to accommodate a modern audience.