Friday, May 7, 2010

Music and Dance Slowly Making a Comeback in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti - The collective cry for release came in the predawn hours Friday in the lush courtyard of a famed hotel, not far from a sprawling downtown tent city, and against a desperate beat of rara horns, and drum-fused lyrics.

"Anmwe!" lead singer Lunise Morse, called out. "Look at how goo doop goo doop destroyed my little country."

As she sang, the crowd of several hundred Haitians and ex-pats living in this quake-ravaged country responded in a furious dance, their feet pounding the concrete, arms outstretched and eyes to the heavens as they pleaded with God for help.

Music and dance _ on hiatus since the cataclysmic Jan. 12 earthquake (referred to as goo doop goo doop in Creole) left hundreds of thousands dead and sucked the joy out of this rhythm nation _ is slowly making a comeback as the country and its people steadily return to life.

"Haitians are people who always sing and dance, a people who has that in their blood," said Jean-Rene Delsoin, 43, a dancer and choreographer, and among the several hundred partygoers at the Hotel Oloffson in downtown Port-au-Prince. "We are tired of people always saying 'Haiti is a poor child.' We need to rise."

The concert by the band RAM, which took the stage shortly after midnight Friday, was the first major dance party in Haiti's crumbled capital since the 7.0-magnitude earthquake, and signaled a return to the vibrant nightlife that has characterized this nation through good times, and gloom. An electrifying mix of traditional Haitian Vodou ritual and folkloric rhythms with rock-and-roll chords, RAM's performance culminated a day that began with a rag-tag procession of some of Haiti's biggest konpa, and Kreyol hip-hop stars.

About a dozen well-known artists, squeezed into the back of a police pick-up, made their way through rubble-strewn streets from the hilly suburb of Petionville to the Champs de Mars public plaza-turned-sqatter camp. The "March of Solidarity," as it was dubbed, attracted hundreds of fans who braved the sweltering heat to follow the caravan on foot.

"After the month of mourning the president gave us, we've started to reclaim our lives," said Valery Pierre, a konpa music fan, looking forward to celebrating his 23rd birthday Sunday with his favorite band, Tropicana. "But we need music to start to live again, otherwise we'll always think we are mourning."

As a towering truck played konpa's meringue-influenced beats, fans offered a superstar's welcome. Autograph seekers shoved Haitian currency and scraps of paper into artists' hands. Giddy school girls, still in their uniforms, screamed artists' names, Roberto! T Jo! Shabba! Old men snapped pictures.

"I am so happy they have come out in solidarity with the people," said Katia Theogen, 17, unable to contain her excitement after collecting the autograph of Joseph 'T Jo' Zenny of the band Kreyol La. "We have no other choice but to be ready."

Stefan Malebranche, executive director of Haiti's ministry of culture, which organized the "impromptu-like" street parade, said as schools reopen and even President Rene Preval returns to the grounds of a battered palace, it's only natural that Haitian musicians also be part of the country's recovery.

"They are ready for that," he said, pointing to the hundreds of fans _ many of them homeless quake victims _ crowded into the ministry's courtyard to hear the musicians speak. "All sectors of Haitian life, work, schools, shops have restarted. This sector has to now restart."

But restarting hasn't been easy or without a bit of politicking in a country that not only lost much of its present, but a lot of its past in the death of cultural icons and institutions.

In the aftermath of the quake, Haitian musicians from Port-au-Prince to Miami to New York lowered their volume, joining their countrymen as the nation mourned. Gigs were canceled and studio recordings were put on hold.

"The impact has been very negative for the people in the music business," said Eddy Renaud, who has done the lighting, sound and staging for many of the big shows for the past two decades. "Musicians like everybody else have been affected by the earthquake. They have lost their houses, members of their families, and some of them are in camps. Things have not been easy."

Even as he welcomed the slow re-emergence of the party scene, Renaud said it will be some time before the musicians _ who live by weekend gigs, and not record sales _ will be able to truly live again.

For instance, to help give the start of the nightlife a boost, promoters behind a Friday night show featuring two of Haiti's most popular konpa bands _ Kreyol La and Djakout Mizik _ lowered prices to $7.50 per person rather than the usual $20 and up for a battle of the bands.

"We want to help the people come out," Zenny said.

Still, if there was nervousness about how a quake-ravaged crowd would react to the return of the party scene, it was wiped out Thursday as a carnival-like atmosphere enveloped this capital.

"There is still so much work to be done and so much sadness," said Roberto Martino, lead singer of the band T-Vice, who flew from Miami for the day to attend the march. "The way they were chanting _ you saw they want the nightlife to start over and for the country to get back to living."

Perhaps artists' feelings could best be summed up by Haitian hip-hop star Izolan. Looking out onto the crowd, the star of one of Haiti's fastest-rising bands, Barikad Crew, said:

"We lost a lot, but Haiti is not dead."

Source: CaliforniaChronicle

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