Andy Palacio, 1960-2008

Andy Palacio

It is with great sadness that we report that our good friend, inspiration and WOMEX Award 07 co-winner, Andy Palacio, died Saturday night, January 19, in Belize.

by Ivan Duran (Stonetree Records) and Jacob Edgar (Cumbancha)

Andy Palacio Passes Away After Heart Attack and Stroke

January 19, 2008 - Andy Palacio, an iconic musician and cultural activist in his native Belize and impassioned spokesperson for the Garifuna people of Central America, was declared dead tonight at 9pm Belize time due to a massive and extensive stroke to the brain, a heart attack and respiratory failure due to the previous two conditions.

Palacio, 47, started feeling poorly last week and eventually visited a doctor with complaints of dizziness and blurred vision. On the 16th of January, he began experiencing seizures and was rushed to a hospital in Belmopan, Belize and then on to another hospital in Belize City. At this point, most people were hopeful Palacio would recover.

On January 17th, Palacio's condition worsened and he began experiencing more seizures. He was placed on an air ambulance to Chicago where he was expected to get treatment at one of the premier neurological facilities in the country. En route to Chicago, the plane stopped in Mobile, Alabama to clear immigration. At that point, Palacio was unconscious and it was determined that he was too ill to continue on the flight to Chicago. He was rushed to a hospital in Mobile, and placed on life support. There, doctors determined that the damage to his brain function was severe, and that his chances of recovery were slim. On January 18th, his family requested that he be flown back to Belize so that he might die in his homeland.

A national hero in Belize for his popular music and advocacy of Garifuna language and culture, news of Palacio's condition sent shockwaves through the community. At 5pm today, a public service was held in Belize City for Palacio as people prayed for his recovery. Ceremonies were also held by Garifuna spiritual leaders in an effort to help with the situation. Belize is in the midst of a heated election, but the local news was entirely dominated by Palacio's health crisis.

The reaction has also been strong around the world. Until the recent turn of events, the past year had been one of tremendous accomplishment for Palacio as his album Wátina, which was released at the beginning of 2007, had become one of the most critically acclaimed recordings of the year in any genre. Perhaps the most unanimously revered world music album in recent memory, Wátina appeared on dozens of Best of the Year lists in major media outlets around the globe and was roundly praised in glowing terms.

In 2007, Palacio was named a UNESCO Artist for Peace and won the prestigious WOMEX Award. Wátina was also nominated for the BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards. At home in Belize, the international success of Wátina has sparked a revival of Garifuna music, as young musicians have become inspired by Palacio's example. Even in the days since Palacio's health crisis began, the accolades have continued to pour in for his work.

That Palacio has been struck down at a moment of such international acclaim only increases the sense of shock and tragedy felt at his sudden and untimely death.

Andy Palacio will be honored with an official state funeral. A massive tribute concert is planned in Belize City on Friday, January 25th.

Andy’s award speech exemplified so many of the qualities that we came to treasure in him: his humility, his generosity, his tireless efforts to support his Garifuna people, and his lyrical eloquence. Here is the speech in its entirety.

Andy Palacio's WOMEX Award acceptance speech

See the video, courtesy of

28 October 2007, Sevilla, Spain

I humbly thank the World Music Expo for honouring my producer, Ivan Duran and me today, in the presence of our friends and colleagues of the World Music Community. I see this award not so much as a personal endorsement but in fact as an extraordinary and sincere validation of a concept in which artists such as myself take up the challenge to make music with a higher purpose that goes beyond simple entertainment. I accept this award on behalf of my fellow artists from all over the world with the hope that it will serve to reinforce those sentiments that fuel cultures of resistance and pride in one’s own.

The true heroes behind my music are really those first Garifuna fighters who, in the 18th Century, on the island of Yurumei (St. Vincent) stood up against slavery, colonization and cultural domination, choosing to keep their identity and remain the Garifuna Nation. Many, including Paramount Chief Joseph Chattoyer, paid the ultimate price.

Then came those who survived that genocide and were forcibly relocated to the Caribbean coast of Central America. This award honours those mothers and fathers who have passed on this legacy (including our language, music, dance, folklore and spirituality) to their children, that we today may add to the richness and diversity that makes our world a better place for all. Left to the formal educational systems, this may never have happened.

Generations of Garifuna composers and musicians such as the inspiring and legendary Belizean parandero, Paul Nabor have kept Garifuna music alive, purely as a means of expressing our deepest emotions. In today’s world, however, Garifuna music has taken on the additional role of contributing to the socio-economic development not only of its practitioners, but indeed to the very nations of which we are citizens, making our contributions in just about every field, including Education, Governance, Commerce, Entertainment and Tourism.

As I stand here, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for all those who have supported my ambitions along the way. Reuben Palacio, my father, inspired me with the love of music from a very early age. I wish he were here today. Cleofa Avilez, my mother, along with all the people of the Village of Barranco have given me love and the gift of Garifunaness of which I am so proud and for that I am also grateful.

Along the way, I have been blessed to meet and work with the many talented composers and musicians who make up the Garifuna Collective. Today, I thank all of them for their numerous contributions that have resulted in the release of Watina, which, I have been told, is believed to be a work of excellence.

I too pay tribute to Ivan Duran who spent years perfecting the sound on Watina. And to the hard working crew Stonetree Records (along with Jacob Edgar and our friends at Cumbancha) for making this all happen.

I may not have been standing here were it not for the vision that has resulted in a cultural renaissance in Belize under the leadership of the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) and for the unwavering support afforded me by Prime Minister Said Musa and his Government, I will be eternally grateful as I also am to the governments and people of Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Belize.

Above all, rutina seremei (I give thanks) luagu houbadina sun garinagu (on behalf of all Garinagu) houn hahari wayunagu luma Bungiu Baba (to our ancestors and the Almighty Father) luagu hadeiweihan woun (for the many gifts and blessings) le agudahabaliwa luagu sun dan le (that has sustained us through the ages. Seremei nia hun. Thank you.

Download the speech (pdf)

Here are links for more information:

Link to Press release:

Andy’s producer/label site:

Andy’s own site:

The WOMEX Award 07, with excerpts of Andy’s acceptance speech and performance, courtesy of

A video of Andy Palacio's entire WOMEX Award acceptance speech, courtesy of

Link to WOMEX Press release on the WOMEX Award to Andy Palacio and Ivan Duran, with extensive biography of Andy:

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