Monday, July 13, 2009

Haitian Music / Sasha Frere Jones / overusing /////////s

I was exited to see an article on Haitian music, a round table discussion posted by Sasha Frere Jones, a music critic I usually like. It all began with this piece @ the nytimes by author Madison Smartt Bell. He just finished a book on Toussaint, and the conversation revolves around this idea of Haitian music and revolution.

I can see why SFJ posted it. Honestly, some of it is pretty sweet, like tracking the influence of Haitian music in specificish ways to dancehall and reggaeton, etc. At Haitian independence 60% of Haitians were born in west Africa, and it seems plausible they were one of the stronger forces in keeping hybrid bits of aesthetics and rhythms from motherland to diaspora thru New Orleans & helping create Carib musics. But I wish the discussion would stick to facts and not their dreamy notions b/c it all starts to sound a bit iffy. Esp wrt contemporary music.

Bell in particular has a pretty wack idea of Haitian Music, describing compas as "Haiti’s good-time music, preferred by the Duvalier regime and served, limitlessly, to tourists." Excuse me. Maybe if you mean compas, Haiti's national pop music, the most popular form of Haitian music for the past ~40 yrs through every coup and regime change including (gasp) Aristide and less popular among tourists than the racines music he <3 s along with those 'cultural excursions' to voudou ceremonies. Maybe he thinks its tourist music b/c its played at every bar/club/resto 24/7. Guess what? Its not for you.

Rara is super alive, probably bigger than what they are suggesting here. But I think the way Haitians use traditional music in popular music is much more nuanced, filtering into compas break downs or hiphop, etc than the overrated folk-rock of mizik rasin. Mizik rasin seems pretty restricted to a certain population in Port-au-Prince, or more specifically, a single band at a single hotel in Port-au-
Prince. Having spent a little bit more than Easter "in Haiti with my family ... in the middle of rara season, and we spent a week in Jacmel with friends." I guess im also an expert, whos qualified to say: whats going onnn here?

"What does revolution sound like? This begs for a long answer, but consider this shortcut: Bob Marley and, with apologies to Carl Wilson, not Celine Dion ... What, then, does that signal moment in the past—the Haitian revolution—sound like in the funky potpourri of rhythms that is contemporary Haitian music? " (Answer? "They tie their messages of resistance to catchy riffs and vibrant rhythms, producing ambidextrous music that presses the consciousness while shaking the hips and feet. .... Their songs infused with the memory of the revolution .." blah blah blah)


I didn't really get the impression that Haitian music is more 'revolutionary' than music in any other country. The revolution was a pretty long time ago and while Haitians are, by nature of recent history pretty politically aware, most of the young Haitians I know are not interested in revolutionary protest. That sort of thing is tied to the memory of chimères, and my peers are much more into chillin to pop (& trying to find jobs out of college w/ a 60% unemployment rate, to create 'the system' not fight it). Not that it never turns up, but i certainly wouldn't call it a defining feature.

Want to know somebody who's bigger than RAM and Bob Marley in Haiti?

Celine Dion

I dig how strong French chanson pop is in Haiti. Garrou, Dion, Francois, etc are affecting the sounds of compas, and zouk, and filtering out sounds across the world in really interesting ways. I also think Haiti is an interesting music spot b/c except for a few exceptions (above) its such a non-potpourri. Haiti has been so isolated from its neighbors, linguistically, and quite deliberately economically and politically from its Anglo / Hispanic / no-longer-in-the western-hemisphere-b/c-of-you french neighbors who were terrified of catching a similar revolt / created sanctions protesting its various 20th century regimes. Haiti has, for much of its history, been mostly unable to participate in the same musical trades as the rest of the carribean. Other musics seem to enter, but unable to pass out of its borders. Which makes Haitian music a very distinctive take on carib music / useful case study / counterpoint to global world musical flows/travels.

For a discussion so interested in African music's influence on Haitian music, im surprised they didn't mention the new ways Africa shows up everywhere. While an original source of people/culture, Haiti was cut off for over a hundred years from African culture. Now global circulation means bootleg soukous compilations show up everywhere alongside English language ghana/nollywood films. Friends hear magic system on local radio and tell me its a Haitian group, Haitian melodramas draw from nollywood and are marketed and sold together, the girls in the school across the street were putting on a production of African Queen. Haitians prefer African reggae artists like Tiken Jah Fakoly & Lucky Dube to Marley. So the way these 'roots' manifest themselves, affect the 'whirl', again, are much more nuanced than this discussion really gets at, and its disappointing.


Anonymous said...

Celine Dion was huge in Mauritania too. Everyone either listened to Dimi (local stuff) or Dion. Ick. People assumed I was a fan, too, and were always asking me which song was my fav. I couldn't even name one. I was always, "Er, um, which ones do you like?"

Funny...although different in many many ways, you could actually find quite a few similarities between Maur and Haitian societies.

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