Words by Jesse Serwer
Photos by Christopher L. Mitchell

There’s a jazz festival in Haiti? That was my first thought when I was invited to attend this year’s edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Port-au-Prince, or PAPJAZZ for short.

It turns out that Haiti has got a nice secret waiting to get out— one that is unique and distinct from other jazz festivals. (OK, it’s only sort of a secret – Branford Marsalis played here in 2013). For one thing, the emphasis of PAPJAZZ is firmly on actual jazz, as opposed to the R&B that predominates at many so-called jazz fests. It’s also a la carte: instead of cramming acts into two big nights and an expensive ticket, PAPJAZZ holds court at a dozen venues over eight nights, including many events which are free.

This year’s PAPJAZZ presented more than a dozen Haitian artists along with international performers from 15 countries. To be honest, we didn’t make it into town until things were just about wrapping up. But, after, checking in to the Marriott Port-au-Prince, our hosts for the week (and the newest and best full-service hotel in Haiti), we sat down to an unexpectedly soulful performance from Alaskan-born singer Halie Loren, outside at the hotel’s poolside patio. A jam session featuring local musicians followed until the early hours of the morning

Events were also held at Université Quisqueya, Hotel Karibe, Institut Francais, Presse Café and Parc Historique de la Canne à Sucre, among others. However, the original home of PAPJAZZ, and surely one of the best places to take in a night of jazz in Haiti, is the Brasserie Quartier Latin. Directly across the street from Place Boyer, in the heart of Port-au-Prince’s Petion-Ville neighborhood, this converted garden home has become one of the city’s most popular restaurants on account of its food, eclectic decor and all-around great vibes.

The walls of its indoor space are covered in the signatures and scribbles of guests, including dignitaries both Haitian and foreign, as well as some unusual art. A hallway lined overhead with bronze kitchen accoutrements guides you, Alice in Wonderland style, between front and back garden areas. Dutch-born Miriam Padberg opened Quartier Latin around the same time as the first PAPJAZZ, and it’s been a festival mainstay ever since.

This year, the space was the backdrop for a closing night DJ set from Gardy Girault. Known for blending traditional Haitian music with techno and house to create hybrid styles dubbed konpatech and raratech, Gardy is one of the leaders of Haitian music’s new school, celebrating local sound traditions even as he pushes a new path. For his appearance at PAPJAZZ, the DJ/producer was accompanied by a trio of live musicians: Drummer Youry Vixamar, trumpeter Amazan Audoine and violinist Fabienne Philippe-Auguste.

“I often play alongside drummers and other types of musicians at my performances, as it incorporates well with my sound,” Girault told me. The appearance was his first at the festival, though he’s attended regularly in the past. “I believe it is a very important festival to sustain, as culture and arts is a vital part of our identity in Haiti,” he says. “There was a period that our music and culture was not being preserved, the influence of western music and culture dominating over our own. This is also what motivated me to start with my own musicality and sound.”
Scroll down through the photos below to experience a night at the Quartier Latin with Gardy Girault.

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Pots, pans, colanders and all manner of kitchen wear hanging from the ceiling at Brasserie Quartier Latin.

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This curious painting brings a touch of order to the chaos of the Quartier Latin walls.

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Upstairs at Quartier Latin. This former private home clearly has a lot of history. 

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Haitians Rock, the shirt says… DJ Gardy Girault, at the controls.

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Violinist Fabienne Philippe-Auguste, getting ready for her close-up alongside DJ Gardy.

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Quartier Latin draws a diverse mix of Haitians and foreigners, young folks and an older crowd, too.

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DJ Gardy, in deep concentration.

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Drummer Youry Vixamar, getting in the spirit of things, during Gardy Girault’s set.

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Hear DJ mixes and original productions from Gardy Girault on his Soundcloud, and look out for his new EP, Rue St Honoré, PaP, out April 20th.

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Yilian Canizares, a Cuban singer and violinist based in Switzerland, played the festival, including a show across the street in Place Boyer.

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A young couple — he’s from Haiti, she’s from Africa — enjoying a night out.

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A hot ticket.. with the venue at full capacity, the crowds kept coming.