Thursday, September 4, 2008

Video: Haitian violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) making his marksin the world of music

By Tequila Minsky

An intense young man at the violin with waist length dreadlocks is an eye-opening vision. With Daniel Bernard Roumain, it's not just about looks. With his music, he opens your mind.

In 2007 at age 34, Daniel who also goes by his initials DBR, was cited in (the magazine) Crain's NY's list of noteworthy "40 under 40", but his talents shone even as a very young kid.

Born in Chicago of Haitian parents--his father is from Port-au-Prince, DBR grew up in Florida. At age 5, as "the best violinist", he was selected to play the Israeli national anthem with the school orchestra in the school cafeteria. Decades later, listeners continue to take notice when Daniel plays.

Between the Haitian lullabies his parents sang to him, there was always a wide mix of music playing in the Roumain house. From French to reggae, Russian folk songs, classical including Beethoven and Mozart and Haitian meringues were heard.

As a young violinist, he flourished with local opportunities: the magnate school for performing arts, Dillard High School of the Arts (where he plugged into electronics), the Musicians Exchange (providing session work when he was in high school) and the Florida Philharmonic (with a job at the ticket office, he'd sneak into afternoon rehearsals). His study of music continued and he has a PHD in composing from University of Michigan

Now, a serious composer, DBR fuses hip hop and jazz with classical music and collaborates with industry greats from Avant Garde composer Phillip Glass, to the Bill T. Jones/Arne Zane Dance company where he was musical director from 2005-2007, to his recent collaborations with Haitian diva Emeline Michel.

Influenced by many genres, he fuses seemingly incompatible cultures and instruments such as "Sonata for Violin and Turntable" or his piece performed on laptop and piano: "24 Bits: Hip Hop Studies and Etudes and Event Pieces."

DBR wants to expand the world's view of classical music by redefining, re-appropriating and remixing. In one of his compositions, "Voodoo Violin Concerto" that he performed with the Vermont Youth Orchestra, he creates the sound of gentle raindrops when he picks the violin, then, he plucks, thumps and bows it.

Just the other night, while providing musical accompaniment for a fundraising fashion show, he improvised a hot duet with vodou drum percussionist Marcus Schwartz.

Daniel has some recorded CDs available through alternative distribution networks (like CD Baby) and he uses all sorts of on-line avenues for exposure. His latest 2007 CD "Etude 4 Violin and Electronix" is a commercial release available in more traditional outlets. "Black Man Singing" with DJ Spooky leads this CD that also includes "Metamorphosis" with Phillip Glass. As a performing musician and composer, often commissioned, he tours nationally and has performed his work in Australia and Canada.

What's about to be new? On the horizon for this multi-genre musical artist are two exciting projects

"I have a 5-minute pocket play coming up," he describes the newest project entitled "Darwin's Mediation for the People of Lincoln." [It so happens that Darwin and Lincoln share the exact same birthday, February 12, 1809] The piece will run October 29-November 1 at Brooklyn Academy of Music, co-commissioned by BAM for the 2008 Next Wave Festival.

Playwright/actor and fellow performer Daniel Beatty wrote the piece, the imagined conversation between these two monumental men of the 19th century. DBR describes in a YouTube link, "It is an exploration...about conversation, imagination, spirituality, and legacy." He draws the connection between the new freedoms of then and musical freedom. "I want to listen to new ideas: rhythm and blues, funk music, rock music, Charles Ives�new arrangements of old ideas." The piece is completely acoustic, no amplification.

A post-show artist talk, DBR with John Schaefer, free for ticket holders will follow the Oct. 31st performance. This is BAM's second commission of DBR's work as part of a three-year relationship.

Farther down the road, his opera Makandal will open in 2009 at the Harlem Stage. With lyrics written by Carl Hancock Roux, this epic weaves much of Haitian history from the time of freedom-fighting Makandal, the escaped Haitian slave given the death sentence. As if a time traveler, events in Florida's Little Haiti and the plight of Haitians in the Dominican batayes are incorporated. There have been occasional showcase performances of this work-in-progress. "It's in the workshop phase," he explains.

DBR's exploration and reassembling of music genres frees us all in our appreciation of music, helping to break through preconceived notions of music and opening us to greater worlds. As for the Haitian influences on Daniel Bernard Roumain, he says, "Haitian music reflects Spanish, French, African, and other European influences. Haitian music is lyrical, percussive, symmetrical, and rooted in mythology, story telling, and inclusion. I can only hope that my music reflects all of those things."

Note:Shout out to Tequila Minsky and Rene Devis at HeritageKonpa Magazine, hope to meet you both in person one day - Pwa :-)

- Tequila Minsky can be reached at

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