Johnbern Thomas: Jazz in Exile

Haitian drummer, displaced by the earthquake, makes his way across the border

Caribbean jazz drummer Johnbern Thomas remembers the dates that changed his career much like any other musician. He remembers the Sunday in 1999 when, at the age of eight, the pastor of his church pulled him aside to say “God has a project for you,” asking him to play in what would be his first ever public performance. He remembers January 28th, 2010—the day he left the only home he’d ever known to try and earn a living in a country where he didn’t even speak the language.

And he remembers how, two weeks earlier, on January 12, he was concentrating so hard practicing riffs from a West African Roots book by Royal Hartigan that he didn’t notice the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that would postpone his dreams of becoming a jazz star in Haiti.

Listen to clips of Thomas performing and demonstrating an African-based rhythm he incorporates into his jazz music:

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Haitian drummer Johnbern Thomas arrived in the Dominican town of Jarabacoa shortly after the earthquake postponed his Jazz career in Haiti. Here, he mixes Haitian precussion rhythums with the Latin jazz the his Dominican band members play. -Jacob Kushner