NYT music critic Jon Pareles reviewed Umalali: The Garifuna Women's Project yesterday. In a playlist themed by the "Soft and Tough", a smiling Sophia Blanco of Umalali was featured along side other photographs of Ghostland Observatory and Dan Bejar of the New Pornographers. The full text of the Umalali review is copied below.
West African slaves who survived a 17th-century shipwreck begat the Afro-Caribbean culture of the Garifuna, who have held onto their language and music in coastal Belize, Honduras and Guatemala. The death in January of Andy Palacio, who galvanized a revival of Garifuna culture, has not ended Garifuna outreach. “Umalali: The Garifuna Women’s Project” (Cumbancha) had been in the works since 1997. Umalali means voice; Ivan Duran, Mr. Palacio’s producer, gathered performances of Garifuna women and gradually built modern studio productions around them, using some musicians from Mr. Palacio’s Garifuna Collective (with whom they will be performing on tour). The nonpurist result is world-music fusion, linking the Central American parranda and punta to African and Latin pop, flamenco, even electric blues. Yet the studio hybrids are largely compatible with the traditional styles, and the women’s voices — particularly the brusque Chela Torres, the pungent Sofia Blanco and the equally biting,
higher-voiced Silvia Blanco, her daughter — defy any artifice.