Cult Cargo: Belize City Boil Up, a compilation featuring Belizean musicians who recorded between the late ’60s and mid-’70s, takes its title from the Central American nation’s popular dish – a stew filled with a range of ingredients, from plantains to cod fish. “Mixed thoroughly, yet remaining individually intact,” writes Rob Sevier in the liner notes as he compares the amalgam recipe to the brew of styles – rhythm & blues, folk, soul, psyche, rock steady, funk and disco – that each group indulges in. While the sentiment is romantic in idea and flirtatious with the appetite, it also overstates the nature of the music. Better described as a collection of Belizean musicians performing familiar covers and adaptations of North and Central American styles, Belize City Boil Up bears little explicit cultural parallel; the nation has its share of music devices, such as bruckdown (or, “broken down calypso”) and punta rock, but these musical boil-ups are not the focus here.
Nevertheless, Belize City Boil Up unearths a fascinating period in Belizean music history where an entire market of music was created by a natural disaster. Following Hurricane Hattie in 1961, numerous Belizeans were displaced to the United States. As these communities swelled throughout the ’60s, the desire for music that reflected their new surroundings increased. Three enterprising men – Compton Fairweather, Henry Young and Gerald “Lord” Rhaburn – combined technical expertise (Fairweather had an extensive background in electronics that allowed him to open the security systems/record company (!) Contemporary Electronic Systems), music talent (Rhaburn became a central musician for both Belize City and Belizeans abroad) and business sense (Young founded a club on Bird’s Isle in Belize City that quickly became a central hub for local musicians) to meet this demand. Belize City Boil Up focuses on output stemming from these men. And there is no doubt that it boils.
The range of material shines due to the effortless musicianship of these forgotten artists. From the early rhythm & blues of Rhaburn, such as when he covers Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Fight It,” to the Harmonettes’ P&P-worthy take on Shirley & Company’s “Shame, Shame, Shame,” each cut contains a stirring mix of hustle and talent. One of the standout groups, the Professionals, reads the O’Jays classic “Back Stabbers” to a rock-steady beat, expertly emulating the stylistic nuances of their Jamaican neighbors. Without copying the same production techniques, the group adds light echo and delay at select moments, repeats only snippets of a refrain like a dub version and lays in a heavy riddim that demonstrates a keen understanding and control of their craft. Not to mention the level of creativity: The group also contributes a break-heavy, Nuggets-worthy, psych-creepy-crawl through “Theme From the Godfather.” In this manner, each group stands out as experts of their own trade, as opposed to being laden with a nu-World tag.
Certainly, the compilation contains its share of entertaining yet unexceptional material. The Harmonettes whip the Pioneers’ “Pony Express” when they cover Johnny Nash’s “Can’t Go Halfway,” while Jesus Acosta (and the Professionals, again) rush through Chick Corea’s “Guajida” (also known as “Guajira”) with comparable aptitude to Willie Bobo. However, the compilation contains a share of heat that may stir music fans to explore further.