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Welcoming the World

Open Arms Series Begins with Aurelio Martínez

by Steve Desroches

Throughout the pandemic, technology played a vital role in keeping people connected in a time that kept us so isolated. And once the pandemic is finally over it’s clear that in some ways our means of communication will change permanently. It’s a real opportunity to bring the world together in so many ways. But alas, there are times when technology fails as infrastructure here and around the world has real vulnerabilities. Case in point, a conversation between Provincetown Magazine and celebrated musician Aurelio Martínez, who is in Honduras, couldn’t happen as the electricity went out in the morning with no expectation as to when it would come back on. But even this shows how interconnected the world is even when communication is shut down in that a power outage in the city of La Ceiba on the Caribbean coast affects things here on the Cape tip.

Come Wednesday, when Martínez is in a more reliable location, he’ll reach out to the Outer Cape as the inaugural performer in the Payomet Performing Arts Center’s Open Arms series, a new venture that will bring music and languages from far and wide providing a platform for musical traditions from around the world that are often ignored as well as local musicians particularly from Brazilian, Cape Verdean, and Jamaican immigrant communities and the music of the Mashpee and Aquinnah Wampanoag tribes. Co-founded by Payomet director Kevin Rice and musician Eleanor Dubinsky, Open Arms will be not just a concert series, but also a cultural exchange force for social change by eventually inviting musicians to spend several days on the Outer Cape performing at schools, community organizations, and more. It’s so named as a nod to the many cultures around the world that welcome and care for the visitor. Martínez is perfect for this first virtual event as he’s been a global ambassador of the Garifuna nation, a cultural group of Amerindian and West African descent along the Caribbean coasts of Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize. The Garifuna people and culture face enormous pressures as their customs and language are at risk of being absorbed by larger cultural forces as well as racism and political oppression in Central America.

Photo: Richard Holder

“We’re not going to let this culture die,” says Martínez in a statement provided by Payomet.  “I know I must continue my ancestors’ legacy and find new ways to express it. Few people know about it but I adore it, and it’s something I must share with the world.”

The original home of the Garifuna is the island of St. Vincent, now part of the independent archipelago country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Windward Islands of the Lesser Antilles. While under British rule the Garifuna were almost entirely expelled from their home in 1796 and ended up on the island of Roatan, one of the Bay Islands of what is now Honduras. The population grew and expanded throughout Central America bringing with them their distinct blend of West African, Indigenous, and Caribbean culture while also absorbing Latin and other traditions, especially in terms of music. Garifuna music is a lush mix of traditional percussion, acoustic and electric guitars, maracas, claves and congas. And within the lyrics lay the DNA of their culture, language, and history with Martнnez, who is often known by just his first name Aurelio in his native Honduras, is the Garifuna’s biggest musical star.

Martнnez grew up in the tiny village of Plaplaya in the remote Honduran portion of the Mosquito Coast. He came from a family of talented musicians and his father was a well-known local troubadour who mixed Garifuna musical traditions with a Latin beat. He learned to be a proficient drummer at a young age from his uncles and grandfather and his gifted mother taught him to sing, often learning songs of her own creation. By the age of 14, Martнnez was a respected musician with a firm grasp on Garifuna rhythms, rituals, and songs. While attending secondary school in the provincial capital of La Ceiba, Martнnez’s musical world opened up as he became part of diverse and innovative musical projects that took him outside the traditional sphere of performance playing professionally with popular Latin ensembles, refining his musical skills and in turn sharing Garifuna culture with a larger audience.

Aurelio Martínez

“This series gives a platform for musicians to speak for themselves,” says Dubinsky, who met Martнnez while they were both part of a music festival in Lisbon, Portugal. “Categorizing music feels colonial. Often much is just called “world music” and that takes away from the diversity of so many types of music. Open Arms is part of efforts to be more inclusive.”

When Dubinsky was asked to curate the Open Arms series Martнnez was at the top of her list. The two partnered this past February with the United States Embassy in Honduras in a Black History Month program meant to reach out to Black Hondurans and support their culture and customs, with the hope their work would reach a larger audience. That project was done virtually due to the pandemic, but many young Garifuna participated at centers set up by the Embassy. They also got to at least virtually meet a hero of the Garifuna people as Martнnez is not only a global music star, the only celebrity of the Garifuna culture, but from 2006 to 2010 Martнnez served as a congressman in the National Congress of Honduras, the first Black person in the country’s history to do so. There he championed Garifuna issues, including those of cultural and language preservation and appreciation.

“He wants to go back and help the Garifuna people,” says Dubinsky from her apartment in New York City. “He wants to create change and part of that is bringing the Garifuna to the world. By sharing his culture he’s helping to expand it, which can help it to survive. His music, all sung in his native Garifuna, is a deep dive into a little-known culture. It’s the kind of educational experience we want Open Arms to be.”

The Payomet Center for the Performing Arts begins its Open Arms series with Aurelio Martнnez via Zoom on Wednesday, May 26 at 7 p.m. Doors open virtually at 6:30 p.m. with a pre-concert introduction to Garifuna music and culture. Registration is required and participation is pay what you can. For registration and more information visit

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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