The roots of Punta Rock
The Original Turtle Shell Band, led by Belizean Garifuna musician and painter Delvin "Pen" Cayetano, burst into national consciousness in the early 1980s just as Belize gained independence. Pen Cayetano is regarded as the "King" of Punta Rock music. The creation of Punta Rock was his contribution to the revival and preservation of Garifuna music amongst the younger generation.
The Garifuna culture had reached the time for a change and Pen Cayetano recalls: “I studied traditional songs and started to write my own lyrics, played the Garifuna drums and also discovered how to use different sizes of turtle shells as a percussion instrument. First I practised all by myself until later some friends joined in. My first song was entitled “Garifuna”, followed by “Miusunali Bou” and “Suha Wau”. Around that time there was no television in Dangriga and no drugs like cocaine and crack. There was time to talk, time to create and time to make music.
It was not until 1979-80 when the Turtle Shell Band was founded with Horace “Mohobub” Flores (lead Turtle shell), Egbert “Mime” Martinez (Garifuna drums), Bernard “Higgins” Higginio (small shells), Peter “Jeep” Lewis (maracas), Conrad ”Faltas” Nolberto (cricket snare), and myself on the guitar and band leader. The six of us practised daily on the veranda of Pen’s Art Studio on 5 Moho Road. I got the idea of quickening the traditional Punta rhythm, adding the electric guitar and the turtle shells. The new sound we called Punta Rock and the group “The Turtle Shell Band”.
Originality and culture were our basic principles. After doing rehearsals for quite some time, we began with our called roadblocks. The Turtle Shell Band was following my instructions, idea and message. I bought all the instruments we needed from the income I had from my paintings' sales and soon I also got a second hand amplifier and a few microphones.
One day we were invited by Mrs “Din” Guerro, the owner of the Eden Rose Club, to perform at her club. That was our first night jamming for a dance and she did a hat collection for us. Friday, 28. July, 1982, I decided to take a step out of Dangriga and we took the 6.00 a.m. bus to Belmopan where we performed at the Market square. A hat collection gave us about $75. At 1.00 p.m. we got on a bus to Belize City. Nobody had heard about the Turtle Shell Band as yet. Around 6.30 p.m. we met Romel Perdomo who invited us to jam at his Club “Bonfire”. The next day became to be a historical day for the Turtle Shell Band. After we woke up at 7.00 a.m. we decided to go to the Central Park to do our show. Our first song was “Think about life”. With the hit “Uwala Uwala Busiganu” (Don’t be ashamed of your culture) the crowd got to a climax. Then it started to rain and the people began to scatter. It happened that we continued to play and created a song on the spot “Huya ma Huya ma yah Uburugu Balice” (It’s raining in Belize). After the rain stopped we were invited from Radio Belize for our first live recording.”
The Turtle Shell Band took the Punta Rock out of Belize and spread the message across the Caribbean, Mexico and the USA. International recognition they gained in 1983 and 1986 at the New Orleans Jazz Festival. The songs were written mostly in Garifuna language talking about the history, calling for pride and awareness of the culture and not losing it. Some songs are referring to the hardship of the Garifuna and their experience as well as love, joy and happiness. Various bands all over Belize and Honduras started to pick up the Punta Rock sound and from then on the music took a life of its own.
Belizeans like most Caribbean people who have been devalued by centuries of colonial suppression, tend not to appreciate their own roots and culture. Even though he is recognised as one of Belize’s most innovative artist and musician, Pen Cayetano found it necessary to move to Germany in 1990. In his new home he taught his kids in art and music and formed the family band “The Cayetanos” in 1998 and started a new generation of Punta Rock music. Pen and his wife Ingrid returned to Dangriga in 2009 and they opened the Pen Cayetano Studio Gallery.
The Original Turtle Shell Band had a reunion in 2011 performing in Chicago and Los Angles, USA. In 2015 Pen Cayetano, Mohobub Flores, Mime Martinez and Poots Flores decided to go back to the roots and came together to record, document and present the new fusion of Punta Jazz.