Wheaton Conversations: Ancestral Sounds

Wheaton Conversations:
Ancestral Sounds ~ Garifuna Music & Dance
with Eleanor Castillo Bullock & Alex Kwabena Colon-Olaniyan

Watch the above recording from June 15, 2023

Ancestral Sound: Garifuna Music and Dance is a project that Eleanor & Alex started in 2022 to showcase the various genres of traditional Garifuna music, rhythms, and dance. Eleanor & Alex are from the Garifuna diaspora in New Jersey and New York and are part of GAMAE International, Inc. The conversation explores Garifuna music, song, and dance as related to the dynamics of spiritual healing, growth, and the perception of space in the context of Garifuna history and culture. 

“While cultures and spiritual practices may vary across the world, one thing is certain: we all have ancestors, and they are a force along the spiritual realm that many of us alive do not acknowledge. Our ancestors are part of all our Garifuna rites of passage; we seek their advice and communicate with them both physically and spiritually,” explains Eleanor. 

Enjoy introductions to traditional Garifuna drum rhythms and songs, including Dugu, Hungu-Hungu, Paranda, Chumba, Wanaragua, and Punta. Engage with Eleanor & Alex as they discuss the meanings and stories from the perspective of the Garifuna people and their sense of cultural heritage.

This event is part of “Wheaton Conversations,” a virtual series highlighting a diverse community of Artists!
To see the full schedule of conversations, Click Here

Wheaton Conversations is generously presented by PNC Arts Alive!, the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass,
and the United Nations International Year of Glass.

Image of Eleanor Castillo Bullock, holding musical shakers in each hand.

Eleanor Castillo Bullock is a vocalist, choreographer, drummer, mentor, and Garifuna language translator. She is the Director of the GAMAE International Inc. Arts and Cultural Division, based in New Jersey. She works with local and international Garifuna people to preserve and pass on knowledge and skills related to the Garifuna cultural heritage and to share its unique music and dance with various audiences in the tri-state area, including national and international audiences.

Eleanor was born in the small coastal village of Dangriga, also known as Stan Creek, Belize. In her homeland, she became a leading figure in a growing renaissance of young Garifuna intellectuals, artists, and scholars who were writing poetry, drama, and plays in their native Garifuna language. Later on, as a Syracuse University’s Visual and Performing Arts Program graduate, Eleanor saw an opportunity to create and design performing arts programs in the U.S. based on the Garifuna culture and language. In 2005 Eleanor co-founded The GAMAE Habinaha Garinagu Garifuna Language Performing Arts Workshop Program (Habinaha Program). The Habinaha Program unites particularly talented Garifuna children, youth, and young adults aiming to explore and preserve Garifuna music, songs, and dances, as well as the Garifuna language, poetry, and drama. The sacred ritual dügü genre was also added to the Garifuna language program

In the summer of 2011, Eleanor brought the Habinaha Program to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the Motherland of the Garifuna people, and facilitated a workshop for over one hundred (100) children, youth, and young adults. In Belize, the international success of the Habinaha Program has sparked a revitalization of Garifuna culture and language, as the younger generation of Garifuna children, youth, and young adults have become inspired by Bullock’s example. Currently, Eleanor provides teaching and training in traditional and Contemporary Garifuna music, songs, dance, poetry, and theatre.

Image of Alex Kwabena Colon-Olaniyan.

Alex Kwabena Colon-Olaniyan has dedicated his career to language. Whether he is working to preserve the oral and written language of his Garifuna community or connecting with an audience through the universal language of music, his focus remains on bringing awareness to the Garifuna culture and restoring a sense of pride to his people. With nearly thirty years of experience as a musician, educator, and cultural activist, his work in the arts and languages has afforded him the opportunity to teach, give workshops and perform at prestigious venues in the United States, Canada, and Central America. Alex is a member of the Biko Arts Collective and former host of the popular television show Nuevo Mundo Musical (New World Music Show).

Alex was born in Guatemala to Garifuna parents. At the age of seven, he began learning traditional Garifuna songs, rhythms, and drumming techniques from his grand-uncle Cirilo Castillo. Alex joined his parents in the United States at eighteen to further his academic studies and hone his music skills, studying and performing with West African master percussionists Ladji Camara and Yaya Diallo, author of The Healing Drum. Upon arriving there, he met his musician-activist cousin, James Lovell, and they began a long-term collaboration for the preservation and promotion of the Garifuna cultural heritage. Currently, Alex performs and gives workshops in Garifuna music, history, and language in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, thus sharing his knowledge and experience with diverse audiences.