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American Routes Shortcuts: Aurelio Martinez

Aurelio Martinez
Sarah Weeden
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Aurelio Martinez grew up in the Garifuna village of Plaplaya on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. He’s a percussionist, singer and guitarist who’s played in noted musical groups of Honduras, and now maintains connections to his Garifuna roots while living in the Bronx, NY, where his parents also reside. Aurelio is a native speaker of Garifuna and Spanish and a member of the Honduran Congress.  We began our conversation talking about his first instrument.

Aurelio Martinez: Ah my first guitar! So I made my first guitar by a piece of wood and sea fish line, but my first guitar is going to be a problem for my mom because everywhere she’s going to find my guitar because it’s my toy. My mom take my guitar, and she broke my guitar and put it in the fire. She’d get tired, “Okay Aurelio, pah pah!” Just fire.

Nick Spitzer: Your father played guitar, what was wrong with his son playing guitar?

AM: My dad left me in Honduras when I was three years old. He come to live in the United States.

NS: In New York City.

AM: In New York City. So I lived just with my mom and my nine brothers and sisters. Just my mom alone care about nine childs. It’s hard for her.

NS: Maybe she was a little worried that you might follow your father’s path with the guitar to the big city. I don’t know I’m just guessing.

AM: I think so. But, you know, my mom don’t want to see me to be a musician, because nobody, until me, do professionally. So my mom wanted to see me be a doctor or engineer or something like that, not a musician.

AM: When I was fourteen years old, my dad sent me my first guitar. You know, going to be an acoustic guitar, a simple guitar, and you know I started to do my own career by guitar. I come from Plaplaya, come to La Ceiba, the number three city in our country, Honduras. I play with Los Aguilas, a popular band Los Aguilas in the center of the country. And then I come back to play with Guillermo Anderson. He's a writer and composer for nueva-trova music from Cuba. Then I cross to San Pedro Sula and have the most popular band in Honduras, Gatos Bravos.

NS: Is that the "Brave Cats"?

AM: Yeah.

NS: I like Gatos Bravos. That sounds like a very hip band.

AM: Yeah, yeah, yeah, a huge band, so my first time to come to the United States going to be with Gatos Bravos. You know, travel, having tour, with Celia Cruz and Johnny Ventura.

NS: Wow, that’s the big time, that’s the Circum-Caribbean big time, Celia Cruz.

AM: Yeah so this time I’m going to be the center of the band, you know, I’m going to be the dancer, and front this band, and singer, singing Garifuna music. Because they mix merengue, paranda, and everything together, you know, to make popular music, local music.

NS: Tell me what is paranda as a music, different from merengue and other kinds of music?

AM: So paranda is like simple dance. It's easy to express ourselves and our spiritual by music, to connect people by music. We talk about the normal problems between each other, we don’t have to fight, we say whatever we have to say, between the situation we are having with our neighbor, if you have some problem, we're going to save by music.

NS: So it’s got some healing, social healing, not just the body, but the spirit with other people. Yeah, I like that.

AM: So it's very very easy to express ourselves.

To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.