Ritmos Unidos: Celebrando Nuestra Historia (United Rhythms: Celebrating Our Story and History) was a four-month virtual program of the U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpa designed and taught by Spanish-speaking songwriter and bandleader Eleanor Dubinsky in partnership with legendary Garifuna musician and cultural ambassador Aurelio Martinez, a Honduran native and naturalized U.S. citizen. The program also invited six African-American and LatinX music industry guest experts to lead interactive sessions on music industry topics including press, marketing, contemporizing traditional musical forms, copyright, publishing and performing for international audiences. The invited experts were Catalina Maria Johnson, Muzikaldunk, Sean Ardoin, Ricardo Spicer and Ivan Duran.
This long-term career readiness and hands-on creativity program was part of the Embassy’s Black History Month programming and also honors Honduran Afro-Descendent History Month and Garifuna Heritage Day.
Ritmos Unidos sessions took place via Zoom. The participants were approximately forty Honduran middle school students ages 12 - 15 and young adults ages 18 - 30, the majority of whom are descended from the Garifuna people.
Ritmos Unidos was divided in two parts: 1) an educational and career readiness component led by Dubinsky and Martinez with guests industry experts and 2) a songwriting and music production intensive in which students collectively composed, produced and recorded original songs in Garifuna and Spanish.
The long-term nature of the program was intended to provide students with a deep dive into Garifuna culture and music, something that is missing from their formal education, as well as a chance to network and develop lasting relationships with one another and program facilitators. The length of the program was also intended to also provide time to fully develop, produce and record new songs together that make an impact on larger society.
The younger students in Ritmos Unidos were from particularly vulnerable environments, already participants in FARECOH Oasis Tela, a youth orchestra and violence prevention program. The older students were invited to the program via ODECO, a local NGO advocating for the equal rights and opportunities for Afro-Descendent Hondurans, and trusted community leaders.
Dubinsky, Martinez and Maria Elena Gutierrez (U.S. Embassy Tegucigalpa Public Engagement Specialist for Emerging Voices) developed Ritmos Unidos in direct response to the articulated needs of the community in which it took place, combined with Embassy objectives. Dubinsky and Martinez brought to the table distinct skill sets and reference points: Martinez is from the rural northern region of Honduras and grew up steeped in traditional music and culture; Dubinsky grew up in St. Louis, studied classical cello, has a strong academic education, and has traveled throughout the world participating in inter-cultural musical collaborations. It's Martinez’ deep knowledge of Garifuna music and familiarity with the students’ context, combined with Dubinsky’s songwriting experience, cultural and linguistic fluency, and capacity to manage the administrative aspects of the program, PLUS the participation, creative contributions and collaboration of all of the students involved that have led to such a meaningful outcome.
For more information about Ritmos Unidos/United Rhythms please contact:
Eleanor Dubinsky: firstname.lastname@example.org
ECA's Arts Envoy Program: ArtsEnvoy@state.gov
Follow the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Arts Envoy Office on Twitter and Instagram at @cultureatstate
Ritmos Unidos was developed in part through Gibney’s Moving Toward Justice program with support from the Bay & Paul Foundations and Mertz Gilmore Foundation.