Jim ParisiMusic Review

Stonetree Growing in Belize

StonetreeBy Jaime Peligro

Ivan Duran got his first guitar when he was fourteen years old and living in Belize. Within a relatively short amount of time, he had also called Mexico, Spain and Cuba home. Then, in 1995, he returned to Belize with one project in mind: to build a quality recording studio, Stonetree Records, in his home town of Benque Viejo, near the Guatemala border. In fact, he told me in a recent interview that the recording studio “is on the same street where I used to play futbol when I was growing up.”

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In order to pursue his dream, Ivan sold most of his musical instruments to generate cash flow. But he kept that first guitar, which, he told me, “plays a part in every album”. It took about two years to get the studio up and running. During that time, Sr. Duran played in a project called Free Access. The group had one concert and recorded one album that provided “an unforgettable experience for all those involved.”

Stonetree recently celebrated their fifteenth anniversary. Looking back, the results have been nothing less than fantastic. The studio has produced nearly thirty albums of music that embrace a variety of cultures, including Garifuna, Creole, Maya and Mestizo. They have been recognized as archivists of historic music while at the same time pursuing modern trends in world music. Ivan has attended WOMEX (World-Wide Music Expo) every year since its inception in 1997, where he has “developed many friendships with people who share the same passion for world music”. In fact, when Jacob Edgar left Putumayo Records to launch the Cumbancha label, he contacted Duran, according to Ivan, “to see what was in the works at the Stonetree lab”. The initial result was the acclaimed Watina, an infectious CD of Garifuna music. In fact, Jacob agrees with the stories of Duran being a perfectionist. “Ivan has an incredible ear for detail,” he told me recently, “and he keeps working on songs over and over again until they are exactly how he thinks they should be.”

Ivan and Stonetree have also worked with the Garifuna Women’s Project, recording more than one hundred songs in the Garifuna language with more than fifty women participating. Upcoming projects for Duran include two more Garifuna albums with Cumbancha, one being “AYO!” with the aforementioned Garifuna Women Project, backed by the musicians who appeared on the Watina CD. Another recording is by Honduran Paranda star Aurelio Martinez.

The award winning documentary, “The Three Kings of Belize” features three legendary Stonetree players: Paul Nabor, who has played the same guitar for 53 years, the accordionist Wilferd Peters and Florencio Mess, a Mayan farmer. The result of this film and soundtrack album is uniquely Belizean, with a universal message.

Ivan Duran told me that the name for the studio, “just came to me. It was more of a feeling: stone representing the past and our cultural heritage, and a tree that is alive and growing now”. They have recently released “From Bakabush,” a compilation of songs from their catalogue. It’s a great introduction to the label, including songs from all the artists mentioned earlier in this article.
It seems that Stonetree has lived up to the concepts behind its name.

Check for availability at Jaime Peligro Books & Adventure in Quepos and Jaime Peligro in Tamarindo.