“Wherever you go, there are paintings, there’s music, there’s dancing, there’s color. For three centuries, the people have known nothing but struggle. But they celebrate, like we do here.” – Paul Fowler, New Orleans native and co-founder of HeARTS for Haiti
In a compassionate display of solidarity, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell is hosting the largest celebration of Haitian culture in the United States since the island nation suffered a devastating earthquake in January 2010.
Jazz Fest, which last hosted an international pavilion in 2004 that celebrated South Africa, wanted to support Haiti and its various art forms, as well as explore the cultural connections between the country and the city of New Orleans – both are resilient places that emphasize celebrating, rather than mourning, life in the midst and the aftermath of tragedy.
Haiti and New Orleans share more than 300 years of culture, art and music, and there is a strong Haitian influence in the city of New Orleans. The staff of Jazz Fest has been working tirelessly since last August, when the plan for the international showcase came to fruition. “It involved extra work from every department,” says Valérie Guillet, the Haiti Pavilion Coordinator for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. “It’s a big financial commitment, but everybody felt very strongly that we wanted to do it for Haiti.”
Cultural connections will permeate Jazz Fest this year with a number of performances, displays, arts and crafts, demonstrations and parades. A listening station (made possible by the Green Family Foundation) featuring original recordings and video footage by Dr. Alan Lomax will be set up in the Pavilion. Lomax traveled to Haiti in the 1930s to study Haitian folk music in its various forms, and when he returned to the states he had more than 1,500 songs and drum rhythms recorded.
Vodou is at the heart of the presentations. It is more than a religion – it is a way of life that has inspired artists in many different forms of media. A replicated vodou temple will be on-site, with Mama Lola, Mambo Florence and Mambo Marie-Lourdes serving the spirits and creating ceremonial art. They will be assisted by drummers from RAM. Songs will be explained, and vodou will be de-mystified.
Festival-goers are encouraged to shop at the store in the Haiti Pavilion as a way to give back to the country. “It is a way to help the Haitian artisan communities,” says Guillet. “The more we sell, the more we can give back.”
Haitian rhythms will take over the Fair Grounds with parading Rara bands, Konpa big-band dance music, traditional drumming and “racine” (root) bands, as well as some of the most popular contemporary Haitian bands, including Wyclef Jean, Tabou Combo, Ram, Boukman Eksperyans, Emeline Michel, Djakout #1, Ti-Coca & Wanga Négès and DJA-Rara.
RAM has been one of the prominent bands in the mizik rasin musical movement in Haiti. The band’s music incorporates traditional vodou lyrics and instruments, such as Rara horns and Petwo drums, into modern rock and roll. RAM’s biting lyrics fit into a tradition of Haitian musicians speaking their minds and drawing inspiration from the violence and chaos that have long characterized life in this Caribbean nation. When the catastrophic earthquake hit Haiti, RAM’s founder and leader Richard Morse reported from the ground using Twitter, giving the world an up-to-the-minute story. He has been reporting on the situation in Haiti ever since. RAM is presented by DIGICEL.
Richard Morse’s 17-piece band will enflame the Festival crowds with its driving beat and searing lyrics. The band’s percussions, horns, vocals and dancers will also join New Orleans second lines parading around the Fair Grounds, thus bringing the exciting and energizing rara sounds of Haiti’s Kanaval to the Festival. RAM will also headline an educational performance at the International School of Louisiana to share Haiti’s music, traditions and culture with New Orleans children.
Metal Artists from Croix des Bouquets: Jacques Eugène and Joseph Lubernier
Croix Des Bouquets is a Haitian village surrounded by sugarcane, and it is the home of an artisan community working with scrap metal.
Papier Mâché Artist from Jacmel:
In the Haitian seaside town of Jacmel, master artisans produce the towns annual Carnival masks in papier mâché.
With recycled paper, vegetable glue and paint, the art transforms everyday life and ordinary people into a parade of larger-than-life, magical personalities. These master artisans are teachers, guardians of ancient cultural traditions and techniques, employers and storytellers. Didier Civil will demonstrate this technique with subjects ranging from masks to costumes to animals. One-of-a-kind portraits and figures from historical cultural personalities from Haiti will also be created on-site.
Vodou Flag Artists from Port-au-Prince: Marie Lissa Lafontant and Yves Télémaque
Haitian vodou flags sparkle with images of mermaids, Catholic saints, pyramids, hearts and candles. The beaded flags are a folk tradition in Haiti that combines spiritual and ritualistic symbols from folk art. They are made of beads and sequins sewn into cloth.