A Music Of Exile: Haiti During The Duvalier Years

The following is the introduction to an interview with Jose Tarvernier, Haitian musician of the band Ibo Combo. The interview appeared on NPR.

Haiti Direct: Big Band, Mini Jazz & Twoubadou Sounds, 1960-1978

From Ricky Ricardo to the Buena Vista Social Club, Cuban music has always seemed to find big audiences here in the U.S.; for lots of people, it’s become the sound of the Caribbean. A new compilation hopes to expand our horizons a bit by introducing the sounds that came out of Haiti, before and during the Duvalier regimes. It’s called Haiti Direct: Big Band, Mini Jazz & Twoubadou Sounds, 1960-1978.

“The Haitian sound was something that was extremely important across the Caribbean at the time, but has been ignored for whatever reason,” says archivist Hugo Mendez, who produced the collection. “It’s been difficult to get your hands on, so the idea behind the compilation was to represent music that has been very important for many people, but has not been available, say, in America or in Europe.”

Mendez unearthed 28 lost recordings. In the process, he got to know some of the people who played this music, many of whom had to flee the country to avoid the abuses of Francois “Papa Doc” and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. One of those musicians, José Tavernier of the band Ibo Combo, joined Mendez and NPR’s Kelly McEvers to talk about how these volatile years shaped Haiti’s musical profile. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

See for the audio interview: A Music in Exile

Haitian dance troupe Ayikodans provide intense, thrilling performance.

The following dance review was written by Jordan Levin and published in the Miami Herald, April 26, 2012.

Physically ripped and emotionally expansive, the Haitian dance troupe Ayikodans returned to Miami and the Adrienne Arsht Center on Friday evening. The swell of emotion that surrounded the troupe’s performance there a year ago, as community leaders gathered to support a company on the verge of collapse after the Haitian earthquake, has leveled off somewhat. And that made it easier to look at the troupe and its work.

Choreographer/director Jeanguy Saintus’ nine dancers perform with a physical and emotional intensity that makes them seem always about to explode. Lean, narrow-framed and muscular to a degree exceptional even for the dance world, they’re built like greyhounds — but with the ferocity of tigers. Add powerful live drumming, and Ayikodans has a terrifically intense — and at times overwhelming — impact.

Saintus created Anmwey Ayiti Manman! (Cry Haiti Mother) right after the 2010 earthquake, as he and the three dancers he was able to gather grappled with the terrible event. The mesmerizing Linda Isabelle Francois is a Haiti mother figure, but she’s no maternal tower of strength — she’s as tortured and uncertain as her trembling offspring, Johnnoirry St. Phillippe and Makenson Israel Blanchard. Barbed wire drapes the bare concrete wall at the back of the Carnival Studio Theater, and tops two walls covered with newspapers on each side (Haiti hemmed in by bad news), and the sounds of wind, ominous rumbles and singer James Germain’s plaintive vocals add to the bleakness.

This youtube video presents excerpts of “Anmwey Ayiti Manman”:

The men scramble on the floor and clutch Francois’ legs, cover their gaping mouths in a silent howl, hurl themselves at the walls and try to climb over. Francois stretches arms and legs in spasmodic pleading, then curls into a ball, unable to help herself or them. At the end she puts her neck into a noose hanging from the ceiling, then jerks it down, and hurls it to the ground in defiant, frustrated rage as the lights go out — a moment so unnerving and strange the audience didn’t know how to react. Ayiti Manman is so raw that it can seem like therapeutic more than artistic expression, an unmediated outpouring of emotion.

Danse de l’araignee (Dance of the Spider), a new work commissioned by Arsht Center, was passionate in a more physical and exhilarating way. Inspired by Gede Zarenyen, a Haitian vodou spirit, and by spiders themselves. Saintus doesn’t shy from creepy-crawly imagery or movement — Danse de L’Araignee seethes with aggressive, coiling, unthinking energy, and even touches of cartoony horror. The nine dancers wear ghostly grey-black lip and eye makeup, and early on carry metal bowls on their heads, where reflected red lights look like buggy eyes. (Al Crawford, lighting designer for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, donated his talent for dramatic lighting.)

But what mostly emerges from Araignee is a surging collective power, driven by five drummers pounding out incendiary, rapid and complex rhythms, and Germain’s soaring, moaning, raw gospel voice. The dancers, in Malou Cadet and Miko Guillaume’s tight briefs or slinky black dresses, writhe and crawl and roll over each other, reaching hands clutched like claws, taut legs snaking up by their ears, eager to attack or merge. The women — Francois, Cassandra Woolley Dolce, and Sephora Germain — stalk and snake their torsos. Steven Vilsaint and Emmanuel Pierre hang from a suspended ladder, seeming to turn themselves inside out. The dancers explode in leaps and (in the case of the astonishing Vilsaint) flips in the air, then rocket to the floor. The dancers’ intensity and force are spectacular, and Saintus brings them and Araignee to a wild level of animal intensity and energy. It’s thrilling — breathtaking even — but also exhausting, like a ritual that lifts you up even as it wrings you out.

For original post: Haitian dance troupe Ayikodans provide intense, thrilling performance – Entertainment – MiamiHerald.com.

See also: Repeating Islands

Haitian Master Drummer Frisner Augustin Dies

In the October 2009, I had the pleasure of witnessing a riveting performance of La Troupe Makandal, led by Frisner Augustin, in Providence, Rhode Island. In the following article, published in World Music Central, A Romero announces the passing of master drummer Augustin, and gives an account of his musical journey.

Haitian musician Frisner Augustin passed away on February 28th, 2012 at Bernard Mevs Hospital in Port-au-Prince (Haiti). He died of a brain hemorrhage.

Frisner Augustin was the artistic director and master drummer of La Troupe Makandal.

Frisner Augustin was the artistic director and master drummer of La Troupe Makandal. “Frisner was an ountògi, a master drummer of Vodou. He was an oungan sou pwen, that is, on the point of the Vodou priesthood,” said Lois Eileen Wilcken, executive director of La Troupe Makandal.

Frisner Augustin was born March 1, 1948, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. His father, Julien Augustin, was an itinerant carpenter. Most of the time his mother, Andrea Laguerre, and her mother, Rose Laguerre, raised him. Frisner’s mother occasionally produced industrial crafts and tourist items; at other times she was unemployed, and the family struggled to survive. His family could not afford to send him to school.

When he was a young boy, his uncle played drums and traveled throughout the Caribbean. Growing up, Augustin admired his uncle and wanted to become a drummer himself, hoping to earn enough money to help his mother and sister out of poverty. His father sent him to welding school to learn a trade. “But anytime I go to my job, my school for welding,” Augustin recalled, “I think about drumming. When I’m on the street, I clap my hands and sing…. Sometimes I’m on the job. I put some pieces together with a torch, and I keep thinking about my drumming.”

After years of watching his uncle, Augustin decided to ask one of the other drummers at a traditional Vodou ceremony if he could participate. “I ask one of the guys, ‘Can I do something?’ And I’m afraid to ask him that, because he’s bigger than me. He says, ‘Frisner, can you do it? You think you can do it?’ I say, ‘Well, let me try.’ I talk like that because I’m scared. This guy gives me the ogan. I play it, and I see that the guy doesn’t take it away from me. He still lets me play. And I say to myself, ‘I’m good.’”

This began Augustin’s apprenticeship period, during which he perfected his timing. After playing the ogan for a while, he moved on to the boula (ostinato drum) and then the segon (second drum). Augustin believed Ogou, the master spirit of the Vodou ceremony, was guiding his drumming. In a relatively short time, he learned to play everything needed for the Vodou ceremonies and was ready to advance to the maman, the master or lead drum. He was then only 10 or 11, unusually young to play lead drum. “They had to put me in the chair,” he said, “and put a rope around the chair to hold me and the drum up.”

As an apprentice maman drummer, Augustin had to go through an initiation ceremony that prepared him for the responsibilities of “making the drum talk.” The first drum he received was a burned-out mahogany shell onto which he had to attach a drum head. Putting the head on a drum is a ritual “presided over by the spirits.” A shaved, wet goat or cow skin is placed over the wooden shell and allowed to dry overnight. The next day the skin is tied and tightened around wooden pegs, and holes are cut into the drum body. Through this initiation ceremony the drummer communicates with the spirits.

Concurrent with his participation in Vodou ceremonies, Augustin continued attending welding school and was able to help support his family. In 1961, he was invited to join a drum troupe traveling to Puerto Rico and began earning his living from drumming.

In 1972 he emigrated to New York (United States of America), where he established himself as a master drummer in Vodou rituals, as a performer for Haitian community festivals, and as a drum instructor.

In 1981 Mr. Augustin took over the direction of the company La Troupe Makandal. His recordings with the Troupe, A Trip to Voodoo, Erzili, and The Drums of Vodou, feature his settings of traditional Afro-Haitian dances. He has recorded as well for jazz artist Kip Hanrahan and for the soundtrack of the film Beloved.

In addition to performing in theaters, galleries, festivals, and educational venues, Mr. Augustin taught a workshop in Haitian drumming at Hunter College, the Krik! Krak! workshop for children at three sites in Brooklyn, and classes and lecture-demonstrations through the Brooklyn Arts Council and City Lore. He also worked with the Haitian-American children’s dance company Tonel Lakay.

Clearly aware of the negative stereotyping of Vodou, Maestro Augustin used his drum to recast the mystery of the religion from a positive perspective.

Because of his dedication, he received a People’s Hall of Fame award from the cultural center City Lore, and a Certificate of Achievement from the National Coalition for Haitian Rights. In 1999 the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a National Heritage Fellowship, the United States of America’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.

For the original posting: Haitian Master Drummer Frisner Augustin Dies | World Music Central.org.

Creole Choir of Cuba at Symphony Space

Caribbean Life, Sept. 17th 2011, reports on upcoming performance of the Creole Choir of Cuba.

On the heels of their blazing performance in the popular city-wide ¡Sí Cuba! Festival last spring, Symphony Space continues its celebration of Latino culture with this season’s only New York appearance of the Creole Choir of Cuba on Saturday, Oct. 2 at 7:00 p.m. in the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre.

The Creole Choir of Cuba represents a rare Cuban musical tradition. Comprised of descendants of Haitians who came to Cuba to escape slavery, the ensemble members perform a repertory of songs with percussion, offered in their traditional Creole language.

With passionate melodies and harmonies synonymous with U.S. gospel and the call and response of Caribbean folk music superimposed over varied Afro-Cuban beats, this jubilant ensemble of four men and six women reinvents their traditional music in a stunning and transcendent way.

Symphony Space’s Artistic Director Laura Kaminsky states, “Bringing another evening of extraordinary Latino musical culture to Symphony Space is a necessity for us as we continue to explore and extol the richness of Cuba and her neighbors.

“Despite coming from a cultural tradition with a painful past, the joy in this music is palpable, and the way that this old music is reinvented for the 21st century is remarkable. Symphony Space is proud to invite the Creole Choir of Cuba back to New York City for their only appearance here this season.”

For original report see: symphonyspace.org-creole-choir-of-cuba and Creole Choir of Cuba at Symphony Space.

Haiti’s Fiesta Season

Commentary: From mid July to mid August the fiesta season in Haiti will be in full swing
Published on July 11, 2011 in Caribbean News Now!.

By Jean H Charles
Jean H Charles MSW, JD is Executive Director of AINDOH Inc a non profit organization dedicated to building a kinder and gentle Caribbean zone for all. He can be reached at: jeanhcharles@aol

President Joseph Michel Martelly, in a tete a tete with the Haitian media moguls recently, has urged the press to swing their brush onto the better side of Haiti for the sake of his worldwide campaign of letting the world know that Haiti is now open for business.

It is a difficult request when the electricity blackout that used to be sporadic is now at regular interval. While there is water in the vicinity, none is coming into my house. There is a big pothole in the street that is now six months old. The garbage receptacle, too high for the regular users, is surrounded by detritus. These are small inconveniences considering that half a million people are still under tents and, no offense to the internal nomads, the fate of 5 million in rural Haiti who are living at less than one dollar a day is even worse! …read more.