vendredi 21 octobre 2011

My classic playlist

For me, October in Haiti means returning to school, the start of university courses, meetings... It's the official end of summer. Although it’s hard to tell with the temperatures we’ve been having here lately! Driving downtown to attend meetings and plan classes (I haven't actually started teaching yet!), chauffeuring my daughter to school and back, I spend a lot of time in the car. I don’t actually mind it much, in spite of the crazy traffic and horrible roads. I have my music to keep me company.

Here’s a sample of the music that keeps me zen while I navigate the streets of Port-au-Prince. I think of these as my classics. In random order:

This one goes way back. It's been one of my favorites since I was a little girl. The voices of Manno Charlemagne and Marco Destin complement each other, not blending perfectly, always reminding us that there is an ongoing conversation we need to pay attention to. The lyrics and sentiment expressed here are timeless. Ti Manman, [J]ebede, Dialogue, Pouki, Grangou, Mizè... and of course, the first track, Lapli: "Lapli pap janm sispann tonbe/ Lezòm ava toujou reve"... "M pap janm pi mal o, map toujou pi byen o." So many complexities captured in those few lines. What more can we aim for, really, than to be "pi byen"? 

Mizik Mizik, De Ger, 1994 
This album is classic konpa. I mean, just the opening notes of Lè n ap fè lanmou make my heart happy. Yon jou va rive is poignant and heartbreaking to listen to almost 20 years later: "Bouke fè pwomès san fondman/ Bouke bay manti pou lajan." Go ahead, click on the link and listen if you haven't heard them before. If you have, well, I know I don't need to convince you to listen! Despite changes in singers and musicians over the years, Mizik Mizik has remained a constant on the Haitian musical scene, anchored by the amazing duo: Fabrice Rouzier and Keke Belizaire. They just keep getting better as proven by Blakawout (2000) and Paradi nan lanfè (2008). Mizik Mizik continues to keep a finger on the pulse of Haitian society while innovating with sound.

This one is not that old, but I’m already deeming it a classic. I keep going back to it. While I’m not too crazy about Belo’s latest stuff, this particular album has struck a chord. My daughter’s favorite remains Jasmine. Istwa Dwòl and Diore do it for me. In fact, my contemporary literature course this semester will focus on migration as a theme. Maybe I can start with Istwa Dwòl... There's an idea. (This song is so good that Belo includes it on two albums. It's also on Référence (2008).) Ti Matant nan wout is just fun. Here's a challenge: see if you can identify the rapper on Lòv pou lòv.
Can I cheat and pick the very best of (2001)? That’s usually the one I have playing, although Cordes et Ames (2000) is a favorite, too. But really, Tankou Melodi and Plezi Mizè are classic Emeline. And Lanmou se flanm takes me way back to secondaire and the whole journée récréative scene. Those were the days! On Cordes et Ame, I think Fò m Ale perfectly captures how a lot of we Haitians start feeling when we've been away from home for too long. Emeline Michel's rendition of Viejo is amazing. If you haven't heard it yet, now is your chance. Emeline Michel sings in both French and Creole, sometimes in the same song, and manages to make it work. She also calls upon some of the greatest names in Haitian music today to help her create magic.

Jah Nesta is one of those bands that's been struggling for years. They're known, but haven't quite made it. That's the sense I get, anyway. I'd love to learn differently. So if you know something I don't, please share. In spite of their low profile, their music is high quality and their lyrics always say something. Vini avè m and Kè kal manman are my favorites from this album. Alain Moraille is Jah Nesta's driving force and he keeps them producing quality music. I wish they'd focus a bit more on marketing, maybe line up a weekly gig or something.

King Posse, I Like It, 1997
At the end of last semester, I took a visiting professor and friend shopping for cds and dvds. As we were browsing in Mélodisque, I saw King Posse's I Like it. I had to have it! Since then, I often have it blasting as I drive around. I like King Posse's Trilogie, as well. The lyrics on this one are nothing spectacular, and to be honest, neither are the voices. This choice is all about nostalgia. For about 3 or 4 years in a row, King Posse were the kings of carnaval with their upbeat compositions. Remember Kool Non? Retounen? (My friend decided to pick up a couple of RAM cds.)

Boukman Eksperyans, Vodou Adjae, 1991

Kè m pa sote. Do I need to say more? Okay, how about Se Kreyòl Nou Ye and Tribilasyon? This album made Lòlò, Manzè and the gang household names. And rightfully so. They brought together musical genius, political activism, and culture consciousness at a time when Haitian society was thirsty for all of those things. Boukman Eksperyans is less active today, but they've already established themselves as a giant.

Obviously, I could include a lot more on this list. (Just flipping through my cds, I see Pou Lavi by New York All Stars. I love that one! And Zeklè. Rete la! Stòp!) I listen to a lot in my car, not all of it is Haitian, and truth be told, not all of it can be called quality music. But it all makes me happy! What are some of your favorite tunes? Which albums do you think are missing from my list?


samedi 1 octobre 2011

On Cultural Consumption

I have been thinking about posting something for a while on the new line of Haitian products at Macy’s.   This past summer’s visit by Martha Stewart and Donna Karan among others caused quite a stir on other online discussion forums such as the Corbett List.   By now most of you have probably heard of the Heart of Haiti Home Décor line, which went on sale last winter.  35% of the proceeds from these handcrafted products go directly back to the Haitian artists who make them.   The collection boasts some of the mainstays of Haitian art—decorative bowls, wrought iron artwork, sculptures and jewelry.  The effort is a collaboration with Fairwinds trading and the Clinton Global Foundation and BrandAid which has a long history of working with Haitian artists in Haiti, and is being billed as a partnered initiative to find innovative business solutions that will help boost the post-earthquake economy.  The artists come from three main locations:  a women’s cooperative in Cité Soleil, a group of metal artists from Croix-des-Bouquets and a third artists collective specializing in papier maché in Jacmel.  Donna Karan’s work is done through her Urban Zen Foundation, which offers jobs to artists and then sells the products abroad.  Karan famously appeared on CNN alongside President Martelly, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Paul Farmer to discuss the benefits of marrying philanthropy and commerce in Haiti. 

Thinking about the emergence of the Heart for Haiti and Urban Zen lines brings together a number of different issues related to globalization, philanthropy, and cultural consumption in Haiti today.  In fact the selling of this home décor is actual a classic example of cross-cultural consumption, which is basically defined as the production of a product in one culture followed by its consumption in another culture. 

Of course the interest of foreigners in Haitian art is neither new nor surprising.  When André Breton travelled to Haiti in the 1940s he gave a series of lectures and lauded the “enthusiasm for liberty of the Haitian people.”  Of course there is a long history of Haitian art being consumed by foreigners for other purposes.  In fact even the university where I teach, has a modest Haitian art collection of paintings that were given to the former alum, a physician who spent time in Haiti while working as a volunteer for Catholic Charities from 1964-1975.’

While I am all for l’art pour l’art I do find it interesting to note that most of this art is stripped down of any subversive or political content.  While I would not go so far as to say that this is merely “tourist art” made for mass consumption and emptied of meaning, I wonder if images like vaudou flags, comments about globalization and neo-imperialism or the government critiques that can be visible in different forms of art will ever be featured in this collection? 

It is also important to note in terms of the background that this is not the first time that Macy’s has taken on such a project.  In the mid-1990s they also launched a “Path to Peace” line of baskets made by survivors of the Rwandan Genocide.   This collaboration is still going on today and has had measurable outcomes linked to sustainability for women. As a model for sustainability, the potential impact of the line is clear: putting money in people’s pockets positively benefits their surrounding communities.   But since here at Tande we are concerned with culture, the question for us is, what does this new medium of cross-cultural consumption in a globalized, “post-earthquake” (I use quotes here b/c I think the extent of this post should be called into question) Haiti mean for the development of Haitian art?  Does who the art is made for and how it is consumed impact how we view, interpret and appreciate it?