Belize is famous for its rich biodiversity and alluring beaches, but the Central American country also is home to deeply rooted cultural groups with unique traditions and languages.
The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell will showcase that music, art and cuisine at the Belize Pavilion throughout both weekends of the event.
“We present the best of Belize at the festival,” said Valerie Guillet, the Cultural Exchange Pavilion coordinator.
Musical performances will take place on the Belize Stage and nearby stages, including the one that is set up in Congo Square.
Guillet describes the collection of music, which includes punta rock and paranda, as diverse and representative of the Garifuna, Maya, Mestizo and Creole traditions.
“Belize is a small country with many cultural groups, and we try to represent as many as possible,” she said.
The robust lineup showcases groove-inspiring acts from Sweet Pain, a punta rock band led by Chico Ramos and Supa G; the Garifuna Generation of New Orleans; Brad Pattico & The Talla Walla Creole Drummers; and 78-year-old Maya harp master, Florencio Mess, among other musicians.
“It’s really a wide spectrum that should be fun and fascinating,” said Guillet of the music performances that are spread throughout the festival.
Visual art exhibits, along with artists demonstrating their creative processes, also happen inside the Belize Pavilion.
Festgoers can admire the work of muralist Pedro Cruz and David Matus, a carnival costume designer, or watch Marta Chiac weave jippa jappa baskets with materials found in the rainforest.
Natividad Obando will create a Day of the Dead altar, dedicated to Belizean musicians. Florencio Mess, and his son, Hilario, will assemble string instruments, using simple carving tools and horsehair.
Emmeth Young and Wilford Felix will construct Creole Sambai and Garifuna drums, by using goatskins, Belizean mahogany, coconut tree trunks and bamboo.
Just outside of the Belize Pavilion, a group of Garifuna women will make cassava bread, a traditional food of the Garifuna culture. During the lengthy and sometimes arduous process, toxins are extracted from the cassava, which is peeled and grated.
The bread is baked on a special pan, over a fire hearth. Curious onlookers can sample the finished product.
The food component of the Belize tribute also features a cooking demonstration in the Cajun Cabin, at 3 p.m. April 30. Chefs will prepare a traditional Garifuna dish known as hudutu — a hearty soup containing seafood, coconut milk and mashed green plantains.
Belize is one of many countries that have been featured over the years at Jazz Fest. The other honorees include Brazil, Haiti, South Africa, Panama and Martinique, a French island in the Caribbean.
“(Choosing the country) is an organic process,” Guillet said. “It involves the producers, the board of directors, and our cultural ties with the country.”
She explained that Quint Davis, the producer of Jazz Fest, stumbled upon a Garifuna celebration during travels to Belize.
“He was really amazed by their culture,” said Guillet.
So when festival officials began brainstorming about which country to feature for its 2016 event, Davis suggested Belize.
Guillet also revealed that the artists who have journeyed from Belize to New Orleans for the festival are thrilled to share their craft with a new audience. In fact, they already have received a positive reception from some folks.
“Personally, I was very struck by the raw talent — how vibrant, how genuine and passionate they are about their own culture,” Guillet said. “I think it will come across at the festival.”