Punta Rock

Little known in the UK, Punta Rock originated in Belize in the 1970s and is popular throughout Central America.

However, before one can appreciate Punta Rock a basic understanding of Punta is necessary and to understand Punta one first needs a brief history lesson regards the Garifuna.

In very basic terms, the Garifuna (also referred to as the Garinagu) are the mixed-race descendants of West African, Carib & Arawak people. According to one version of events, the survivors of a slave ship wreck in 1675 were assisted by native Carib who took the Africans to the Caribbean island of St Vincent and, there, intermarried with them.

Although France & Britain declared St Vincent a neutral territory in 1748, such a state of affairs was never going to last indefinitely and, accordingly, after the military defeat of the French in 1763, the British took control of many of its territories as well as St Vincent. For the next 30 years or so the local Carib-African population resisted this takeover by the British until 1796 when the Second Carib War resulted in their final surrender.

The British then began the process of deporting the Garifuna people to the island of Roatan in modern-day Honduras. However, the island wasn’t large enough to support their numbers so they gradually spread north along the coast to modern day Guatemala (especially Livingston) and further up the coast to Belize.

As with most cultures, the Garifuna developed their own language and customs with music playing an especially important part in their collective identity.

Punta is the name given to Garifuna music and, not surprisingly, it is strongly linked to West Africa with its rhythmic drumming and call and response patterns. Punta is also as much about dance as music and is often described as a human mating dance, performed by couples in a highly sexualised manner and involving a whole lot of gyrating hip and lower body movement.

Punta Rock took this existing culture of song & dance and simply updated it to the modern world with guitars, synthesisers and booming sound systems. Indeed, it’s not often that a whole music genre can be credited to a single person and time although it is widely acknowledged that Punta Rock was created by Pen Cayetano in 1978.

To go any further in trying to describe Punta Rock, it’s probably best to refer to the experts such as Stonetree Records who have this to say.

“Strongly rooted in West Africa, with call-and-response chants sung primarily in Garifuna, Punta Rock mixes modern and traditional instrumentation including turtle shell percussion and the indispensable primero or lead Garifuna drum, played with such dexterity that it breathes life and energy into the music.

The typical Punta Rock dance is about male and female interaction. Sweating bodies surrounded by the aromas of smoke and booze in dimly lit dance clubs, grinding to the pulsating beat with varying degrees of physical expression ranging from the merely suggestive to explicit pelvic gyrations and physical contact”.

To hear Punta Rock live, and in-situ, it’s best to visit either the southern reaches of the Belize coastline, especially around Dangriga and Punta Gorda or, if in Guatemala, the small Garifuna settlement of Livingston.

However, thanks to a diaspora that can now be found across Central America and numerous cities in the USA, Punta Rock is no longer the sole preserve of the Garifuna and can be found far from its original, hot, tropical shores, not to mention all over the internet. Happy Garifuna surfing…..

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