C.E.S. – 1976
In 1968, Henry Young purchased a small plot of land just off the coast of Belize City, known as Black Bird’s Island. Within months, “Bird’s Isle” would become the city’s hotspot: home to a large, hatch-roofed building that housed a bar, and an adjacent covered basketball court that doubled as a dance floor. Crossing the rickety wooden bridge that led from the mainland to Bird’s Isle would become something of a right of passage for Belizean youth, and the all-night dance parties hosted there would, in time, become the stuff of legend.
Though Bird’s Isle would host most of Belize’s hottest musical groups, the premiere act to hit its stage was led by drummer Gerald “Lord” Rhaburn. Like Henry Young, Rhaburn had spent time in America, mingling among a group of Belizean ex-pats who had relocated to New York City in the wake of Hurricane Hattie in 1961. By the time that Rhaburn’s band took up regular appearances at Bird’s Isle, they were a seasoned, sharpened group – well versed in the cross-cultural melange of sounds befitting of a nation that was geographically tied to Central America, had an oceanic outlet to the Caribbean, and – like most of the Western Hemisphere – existed in the shadow of contemporary American styles.
In order to record their music, Belizean acts of the era were required to travel outside of the country; Rhaburn, for instance, had first recorded in Guatemala in 1957. Production for these records typically fell to Compton Fairweather, a Belize-born engineer who had relocated to New York in the 1950s. Captured in Brooklyn’s Artcraft Studio, 1976’s Bird’s Isle is Forever found Rhaburn’s combo bringing the Belize City party to wax, and nowhere more than on the album-closing triumph, “Disco Connection.”
Five minutes of incessant, unstoppable funk, “Disco Connection” is the next best thing to being on the dance floor at Bird’s Isle. As the title implies, the track seethes with the insistency of contemporary disco music, but is adorned with the Ameri-Caribbean influences of which Belize stood in the crosshairs. Finding its pulse is a snap, but getting it out of your brain is no easy task.
Like even the most persistent dance parties, “Disco Connection” must come to an end. So too did Bird’s Isle’s time as Belize City’s most exciting nightlife destination. The island remains home to a restaurant/bar to this day, but a quick Google search indicates that it shuts down at a “respectable” 9:00 PM.
Still, a piece of those all-nighters remains in the recordings captured by Compton Fairweather during Bird Isle’s heyday. The enduring charm of “Disco Connection” was no doubt recognized by the Numero Group when they chose the track to lead off their outstanding 2005 compilation, Cult Cargo: Belize City Boil Up. One might be tempted to say that Numero breathed a second life into the song, but let’s face it: this track is immortal.