Under The Rubble: Haitian Music in 2010

Words by Erin MacLeod and Etienne Côté-Paluck, photo by Jeff Antebi.

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Without a doubt, the event that drew the world’s attention to the Caribbean in 2010 was not anything that happened in the world of music but the overwhelmingly destructive earthquake in Haiti. The quake forever altered the landscape of Haiti, and the music scene was no exception. Jeremy Robins–producer alongside Magali Damas of The Other Side of the Water, a documentary about Haitian rara music and the band Djarara, described the impact of the disaster this way:

Its obviously been a crazy, devastating year in Haiti,” he said, “and that’s affected the music. Both carnival and rara season were largely cancelled. But ironically, Haitian music has probably reached a wider audience this year than ever before (all those documentaries needing soundtracks, all those earthquake benefit events needing performers…). I think it’s the hope for myself as well as a lot of Haitian artists that these cultural offerings can really take hold and tell a deeper story about Haiti, and one that’s not just about sensational headlines and disasters.

The Other Side of the Water will get its public television premiere on the January 12 anniversary of the quake. The film works to provide the “deeper story” that Robins believes is so significant. This being said, it seems only fitting that LARGE UP take a look at Haitian music that was produced over this most difficult of years –-a window into a culture that is often overshadowed, at the best of times, by the English-speaking Caribbean. Masala collaborator Etienne Côté-Paluck has been a music writer and a journalist for more then ten years for different French and French-Canadian media outlets. He’s been in and out of Haiti for the past 25 years but living in Port-Au-Prince for a year now and his most recent piece describes life one year after everything changed. Côté-Paluck provided LARGE UP with this year-in-review:

 

Even though no album was released in the first six months of 2010, the proverbial Haitian black humor revealed itself soon after the devastating January 12 earthquake in Haiti. This country had a rough year in 2010, but one of the most active Caribbean musical scenes is still alive. The catchy song “Anba Dekonb” (literally,”under the rubble”) by DJ Tony Mix, a close collaborator of the most popular hiphop band in the country, Barikad Crew, was out in February and could be heard all day long in all local buses, urban radios and bars. With other popular songs released through the year, Tony Mix has made his name as the most productive electronic music producer in Haiti.

The success of this now-famous artist has also shown the vigorous state of this new Haitian electronic music style: close to Angolan kuduro and West-African dance music, two genres already popular in urban areas.

The kompa scene is still kicking too, resulting in many new albums at the end of 2010 (Tabou Combo being the most famous) and was and is part–along with international rap stars–of the election craziness. Lots of musicians publicly supported or helped one candidate or another, often in radio or TV clips. Sometimes it even created dissent in some bands like the Barikad Crew. One member, Izolan, who just released his first official album in December and supported Jude Celestin (a candidate accused of fraud) was criticized in a radio interview by another bandmate for the use of the name of the band in election-related activities.

The humanitarian and government response to the cholera epidemic also requested the help of music bands like the rootsical Boukman Eksperyans or konpa Kreol La to help with public information campaigns. Mika Ben, a famous kompa singer, encouraged people to go vote in an ad for the Electoral Council, a few weeks after he proved that he was also a good hiphop producer (even if his rapping still lacks something). Two songs of his were huge hits during the summer and autumn, “Nap Kite’l Pou Yo” (“leave it to them”) and the exquisite Agrikol Yo Yé (“they’re country”) with Roody-Man…listen here. (-Etienne Côté-Paluck)