Healing the Haitian Soul

JazzTimes Magazine
The Port-au-Prince International Jazz Festival strives to mend a devastated nation

Across the street from the shacks made of sticks, tarps and scrap metal that house thousands of earthquake survivors in downtown Port-au-Prince, the delicate sound of a tenor sax serenades a sizeable audience of music enthusiasts. This is Haiti’s international jazz festival, resurrected after an earthquake destroyed its venue city in January 2010, killing some 230,000 people and displacing some 1.4 million.

So where does a jazz festival fit into the reconstruction of a nation where 800,000 people remain homeless and threatened by a deadly cholera epidemic, their national consciousness disheartened by the undemocratic election held last November? “You can’t only take care of housing and water—all that’s really important for sure, but culture is really linked to the Haitian people,” said Milena Sandler Widmaier, who organized the festival along with her husband, drummer Joel Widmaier. “People need to be fed in the mind as well—not only in their body, but in their soul.”

Click HERE to read the full story as it appeared at Jazz Times. This article appeared in the May 2011 print edition of JazzTimes magazine.

Johnbern Thomas: Jazz in Exile

JazzTimes Magazine
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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Jazz in Post-Earthquake Haiti: (Re)building a Musical Culture

JazzTimes Magazine

On a rainy Sunday night in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, jazz instructor Claude Carre sits down with his guitar on a small stage alongside two of his students, playing drums and bass. The audience of 15 or so wealthy Haitians and foreigners at Café des Artes don’t seem to notice when the house music gives way to the sounds of Carre and his trio playing a soft acoustic number.

Ever since the 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit Haiti last January —leaving some 230,000 people dead and displacing 1.3 million more to tent cities—Haiti’s musicians have struggled harder than ever to find audiences. In addition to the immediate human suffering, the earthquake also put a long-term dent Haiti’s fine arts culture, including its delicate jazz scene.

“I don’t know if after that, the jazz scene is going to expire,” Carre said.

Check out the Port-au-Prince International Jazz Festival

Click HERE to read the full article as it appeared at Jazz Times.