I have been traveling abroad to play music for a few decades now and I’m always thrilled to visit a new land. My trip to Haiti is proving to be particularly special already. I’m been fortunate to be invited to play with Paul Beaubrun for performances at Institut français en Haïti and FOKAL convention center. Our amazing percussionist Morgan Zwerlein ask me “Have you ever seen any place like this?” as we got in the van that took us to the hotel. I thought to myself…absolutely! there are parts of Kingston Jamaica, Indonesia, and yes parts of the United States that is very much like Port Au Prince. The thing that I see here in Haiti is the strength and drive to maintain progress with dignity. The People and what I have seen of the city are amazing!
We had lunch soon after we arrived and I learned that I wasn’t going to be able to partake in all that Haitian cuisine has to offer. There is a lot of crustaceans in their diet and I have a pretty terrible shell fish allergy. Therefore I’ll just have to enjoy the way they make other foods. Paul’s parents Theodore “Lolo” Beaubrun and Mimerose “Manzè” Beaubrun had us over for dinner that evening as well. It was great and an honor to be guests of the Boukman Eksperyens founders! They were so gracious and wonderful. There was naturally a jam session, but I really just watched and listened. The Haitian drumming tradition is deep and very sophisticated. I felt that it was time to learn rather than step all over there truly magical music!
I got a chance to speak with Lolo Beaubrun at length and it turns out that he went to school with my friend Harold Faustin, with whom I played with in Montreal in my early years as a musician. At the time Harold introduced me to Kompa music but he and I mostly played jazz light R&B. Lolo also filled me in on how he was inspired to create, his culturally important and Grammy Nominated group, ‘Boukman Eksperyans. This group not only became well known outside of Haiti but also became a kind of cultural beacon during political turmoil of early 1990s when president Jean Betrand Aristide was ousted in a miltary coup. It was exiting to hear how it all happened from the man himself!
The gig the following night was fantastic! It was a packed house at the Institute Francais which only could hold up to about 450 people in the space. Paul and his family are definitely celebrities in Haiti so he had them in the palm of his hand. This is great but he can do that in any venue that I’ve played in with him; from Massey Hall in Toronto to Radio City Music Hall in New York City. The difference here in Haiti is that crowd not only understood the traditional material but reveled in how we revamped it. I’m getting ready for the second show at FOKAL. I’m sure it’s going to be incredible!