By: Rupal Ramesh Shah
Haiti has been in the news a lot recently, but most of that news is disheartening and discouraging. I think it’s also important to share stories that reflect the other side – Haiti’s rich history and lively music.
In many ways, music brings communities together. My first December in Haiti in 2017, I attended a musical concert that featured Boukman Eksperyans. Boukman Eksperyans is a band from Port-au-Prince. The band gets its name from Dutty Boukman, a voodoo priest who was a self-educated slave from Jamaica. Various stories are associated with his name. Some say he was known as Boukman because of his ability to read and write. Others say it was because he taught fellow slaves to read and write, which may be why he was sold from his former Jamaican plantation to a plantation in Haiti. Boukman is well known throughout Haitian history because he led a religious ceremony in 1791 that was considered to be the start of the Haitian Revolution.
Boukman Eksperyans plays Mizik Rasin (roots music), a musical style that began in the 1970s which combines traditional Haitian voodoo and folk music with contemporary rock-and-roll music. While the music is primarily played by guitars, drums are what give the music an upbeat and lively flavor. Additionally, the lyrics have often reflected the political situation of the country during various times in history. For example, during the ’90s they presented a song at Carnival, “Ke’m pa sote,” which included the lyrics “My heart doesn’t leap, I’m not afraid.” The song was a protest against the post-Duvalier interim military government.
The concert I attended in 2017 included music from Boukman Eksperyans as well as bands that play similar music, such as Ram. The music reminded me of Bongo Flava music from my home country of Tanzania. Bongo music mixes traditional Taarab and Swahili folk music with modern hip hop music. Bongo music has the same fusion styles that appeal to a large group of Tanzanians nowadays.
Haitians are very proud of Rasin Mizik, especially because voodoo practices were frowned upon by white masters during slavery. Although many were required to accept Christianity, they did not give up their traditional beliefs, and Rasin Mizik is a proud product of the movement to keep voodoo culture and music alive. During the concert, some people seemed to go into a trance as they danced to the music. My favorite song of the night was “Ibo Lele,” sung by Ram, which translates to “Dreams Come True.” I originally liked the song because of the tunes, but now that I understand the lyrics, the song has captured my heart! “Ibo Lele” is available online.
People all over the world grow up with music that reflects their upbringing. In Maine, we have a large international community that enriches us all with the music they bring with them to their new lives, whether from the continent of Africa, or the Caribbea, or the Indian subcontinent – or anywhere where there is music.