of this Ezili Dantò's Note:
The Sanba Movement and Roots/Rasin
1. Haitian Dance and Drumming
Pioneers - a Primer
2. Haitian Roots - Rasin - Music
- The Rhythm cannot be separated
from sacred Dancing
3.The Original Sanbas
- Boukman Eksperyans,
Sanba Yo and Group Sa (Foula Jazz)
- Boukman Eksperyans –
The First Incarnation
- Neg Kafou at Professor Denis
Emile's artist collective
- The Sanba Movement
4. Group Sa (Foula Jazz)
5. The Original Members of
- Sanba Yo Recordings
to Write down the Vodun Rhythms
6. Art that Teaches Haitian
Culture and Values
7. What is Roots Music and Styles
of Roots Music?
- May 1 to May 4, 2008
Sanba Movement and Haitian Roots/Rasin Music
Ezili Danto's Note:
DANCE AND DRUMMING PIONEERS: A PRIMER
What do you know about the pioneers, the elders of Haitian dance? The
pioneers of Haitian roots ("rasin") music?
Do you know who Viviane Gauthier is, Jean Leon Destine? Jolicoeur? Herve
Maxi? Edwige Duverger? Yvrose Green? Louines Louinis? Gaston "Bonga"
Jean-Baptiste? Frisner Augustin? Fanfan Damas? These folks have played
significant roles in putting Haitian dance and drumming on the world
Do you know how long Haiti's most famous dance troupe, Ballet Bacoulou
d’Haiti has been in existence? Where the radiant and accomplished,
Yvrose Green is taking Ballet Bacoulou today, 48 years since Ballet
Bacoulou d’Haiti was first created? Or, that Ballet Bacoulou d'Haiti
is one of the only Haitian institutions to have survived Haiti’s
instabilities since 1959 and is still thriving and expanding?
And you say you love Haiti. So why don’t you know these extraordinary
artists or their work?
Ok, maybe you know and even understand who Odette L. Wiener and Adrien
Ciceron were and the contributions they made to Haitian dance and theater.
Or, that the iconic Jean Leon Destine, who used to dance in Katherine
Dunham’s troupe way back in the 1930s, is still with us, teaching
selected workshops in the traditional and sacred Haitian dances and
rhythms in New York and California?
If you know that, then you know the master dancer/choreographer Peniel
Guerrier is taking over the US reigns where Jean Leon Destine left off
and that Peniel is also following in the New York footsteps of master
Haitian dance teachers like Lionel St. Surin, Julio Jean and Nadia Dieudonnee.
Guerrier is hands down the hottest and most tireless of the
currently practicing master Haitian dance teachers, performers and choreographers
on the Haitian dance scene. Having not too long ago left Haiti, he is
single-handedly holding down the fort for Haitian dance in New York,
teaching both at Alvin Ailey and The Djoniba Dance and Drum Center,
as well as being the executive director of the dance troupe, Tamboula
The lexicon of authentic Haitian Vodun dance, drumming, rasin music
and song, provide critical tools for gathering together parts of that
Haitian self, erased by ecclesiastic and Western (“Pèpè)
education. Or, drowned in the everlasting search for asylum, amnesty
and justice singularly denied non-assimilated Haitians by the rage of
the New World rulers. By appropriating Vodun imagery, psychology and
vocabulary, these Haitian artists struggle on and triumph - "alternating
between suffering and expanding."
This is the Haitian cultural frame by which Haiti’s Roots
- Rasin - artists, like Foula Jazz and Sanba Yo, extend their
uniqueness into the world and decipher their own signs (vèvès),
visions and sources of life.
But don’t worry if you know little about Haitian dance, the drumming
elders and the current players, I will soon publish, for the Ezili's
Network, in some detail, text and video interviews we’ve done
with some of these artists; their own words about Haitian dance, its
history. And as well, endeavor a brief exploration of Ezili’s
stage performances. Noting its organic application of elements of Vodun/roots
music, Vodun metaphysics, poetic dreamscape and the basic components
of Haitian dance movements, sacred rhythms, its cultural context, modern
metamorphoses and transformational intent.
2. HAITIAN ROOTS - RASIN - MUSIC
But today, I am moved to write, not on Haitian dance, but Haitian Roots
- “Rasin” - music. Why? Because if you are in Haiti right
now, and put on the radio, it's virtually all rap and yes, much in English
or a mix. But, then again, strangers occupy Haiti right now.
Where are the elders of liberation music in Haiti? What’s are
the names of the top three Haitian racine/roots groups of the 1980’s
and early 1990’s and what are they doing with the pain and breath
of the people in terms of music, right now. Do you know?
Where, pray tell, is Sanba Yo, Foula
Jazz and Boukman Eksperyans?
These bands came onto the scene around 1978, 1979. Are the members still
alive, or has the perennial Haitian struggle for life and freedom eaten
and swallowed them whole, and made them as unproductive as the anti-Duvalier
politicians of their days are today?
This brief introduction to Haiti’s modern Roots music and some
of its pioneering musicians focus on the history and styles of racine
music, and answers the question as to where, in the pantheon of Haiti's
great racine musicians, would the work of Foula Jazz and Sanba Yo be
The Rhythm cannot be separated
from sacred Dancing
But the sound cannot be set apart from the Haitian dances of the Gods,
nor the dance separated from the call and response of the drums. Dance
and music is entwined in the African cultures, Haiti is no exception.
One cannot be separated from the other.
The indigenous Haitian or Vodun way, is participatory. The artists of
Group Sa, Foula Jazz and Sanba Yo were not Haitian artists who made
music simply for people to listen to. The music is for dancing. The
music is for healing. The traditional Haitian dances are connected to
sacred drumming rhythms and patterns. Dancing them is a sacred task
to slough off bad energies and purify the body to host the healing and
sacred energies of Vodun. The sacred Haitian dances and rhythms are
calls, the hieroglyphics in sound to give life to the Haitian Gods.
"Vodun music is not made for observing, watching or listening to.
That is the difference between Haitian culture and other cultures,"
says Chico Boyer of Foula Jazz. “Our traditional rhythms come
from Ginen, its participatory. You can’t be a bystander, you must
be in it. I think at some point, that’s how American Jazz was.
Before it was taken over by others. It was meant for dancing, not just
THE ORIGINAL SANBAS
There is, of course, some controversy as to who started the modern Rasin
music movement in Haiti. And, I hear some discussion, it was Sanba Zao
(aka, Louis Lesly Marcelin) of the group Sanba Yo. Or, it was Lòlò
Beaubrun of Boukman Eksperyans.
Boukman Eksperyans - The First Incarnation,
the Sanba Movement, Neg Kafou at Professor Denis Emile's artist collective
Boukman Eksperyans - The First Incarnation
Perhaps history will record that the
nucleus of modern Haitian Roots/Rasin Music came out of a group of musicians
who got together around the year 1979 and formed a band known as Boukman
Eksperyans. Perhaps not. It’s fairly known there’s some
competition for this sought-after kudos. Which is a reason to learn
more about the groups known as “Sanba Yo” and “Foula
Jazz” since they never reached the commercial heights of Boukman
Eksperyans (the second incarnation) and thus are not as well known outside
of Haiti’s Root music aficionado circles as Boukman Eksperyans
(the second incarnation).
The men who made up that nucleus of this first incarnation of Boukman
Eksperyans, around 1979 were: Fanfan Alexi, Chico Boyer, Jean Marie
Claude* ( "Ti Krab") and Theodore Beaubrun, Jr. ("Lòlò").
Apparently, in their first incarnation they did not perform.
(Sanba Zao and Mimerose Beaubrun:
Conversations with Chico Boyer of Foula and Sanba Zao reveal that Sanba
Zao was there when the first Boukman Eksperyans musicians where jamming
and practicing at Languichat's (Theodore Beaubrun, Sr.) house back in
1979. Sanba Zao, folks say, was then a good friend of Lòlò
Beaubrun from Boukman Eksperyans and Mimerose was then Lòlò’s
girlfriend. So, though back then they were not official members of the
group, they were always there with the group jamming. At the time Sanba
Zao was one of the chief founders of the Sanba Movement.
The research indicates that Lòlò Beaubrun had returned
to Haiti in 1978 from residing in the U.S. But, according to Chico Boyer,
because they soon could not use the Languichat house, they had no place
to practice and Boukman Eksperyans (the first incarnation) wound up
breaking up. Soon afterwards, Chico Boyer started frequenting an artist
enclave in Kafou, home of a Haitian guitar player name Denis Emile.
There, these Haitian musicians had jamming sessions and music studies
that went on all day and all night.
Kafou at Professor Denis Emile's artist collective
At some point in this
chronology, Fanfan Alexi immigrated to the U.S. and Chico Boyer says
that it is, in Kafou, at Denis Emile’s artist collective, that
he met Wilfrid "Tido" Lavaud, Doudou Chancy, and the other
members who would form Group Sa, which eventually regrouped under the
name "Foula Jazz".
What becomes clear is that the versatile bass player, Chico Boyer and
Sanba Zao were at both centers where the musicians, who later form bands
that would pioneer the Rasin sound, congregated in music jamming and
study sessions. But, says Azouke of Sanba Yo fame, "These guys
were not using the traditional drums. When I met them, we (Sanba Yo)
brought our Vodun drums to them. Neg Kafou yo te lan Jaz, Bosanova,
Brazilian styles - the Haitians at Kafou (Denis Emile's house)
were into Jazz, Bosanova, Brazilian styles. Neg kay Languichat yo
te lan Jimmy Hendrix and Santana - The musicians who gathered at
Theodore Beaubrun, Sr's house, were into Jimmy Hendrix and Santana.
Fanfan Alexi was playing Jimmy Hendrix."
It must be noted here that sometime after the founding of Group Sa in
1981, Lòlò Beaubrun, who had resided in the US until 1978,
founded a group to study Vodun music, called Moun Ife ("People
from the place of the Deities"). Boyer tell us that "Moun
Ife" came after the Kafou gatherings had begun and after the founding
of Group Sa.
The Sanba Movement was already in existence before the founding of Group
Sa. However, the band, Sanba Yo, didn't officially come together until
after Group Sa broke up. The collective that gathered together at Denis
Emile’s place to study Haitian music existed and played the music
in sessions with others like Wilfrid "Tido" Lavaud, Sanba
Zao, Chico Boyer and the other Sanbas’, who were living Haiti's
realities and had imbibed - in an unbroken strand - elements of Vodun
ways, their whole life.
Also, according to those who were there, this music movement, was not
called Rasin or Roots music at this point. But Sanba Zao and his homeboys
- flannè zòn kafou fey yo - were called "Sanba,"
even back then.
In the Haitian tradition a "Sanba" is the artist-farmer, the
revered storyteller, healer/therapist or griot, whose job is to lead
the singing, chanting, call and response of the traditional work songs
and playing of the drums that keeps the rhythm of the work going at
a Haitian Konbit. Another word for the same function is “Simidò.”
A Konbit is when all the Lakou and farmers of an area
join together, as an extended family, to help one another get done whatever
work that needs to be done, whether it's planting, bringing in the harvest,
fixing a fence or re-building a home after a storm or unforeseen occurrence.
The Haitian Sanba's job is to do all that's required, improvising whatever
is necessary as the community's acknowledge atis (artist) and
poet/philosopher. The Sanba knows his people, can recite their stories
and can keep the rhythm of the work going with the traditional songs
as well as being able to use the community's life and story to keep
everyone entertained, making up whatever poetry, music is necessary,
choosing which of the Vodun drum rhythms (Petwo, Rada) is most
appropriate to tell the village their story. To keep up their spirits
and encourage them as they work.
The Sanba Movement
NOT CALL OURSELVES “RASIN” – ROOTS – MUSICIANS,
BUT SANBA. WE CALLED EACH OTHER SANBA."
The thoughtful poet and incredible Sanba
Ayizan of the disbanded Sanba Yo, says that the musicians
in his group in particular, saw themselves then and even now, not as
part of a Rasin music movement, but a SANBA MOVEMENT. The label “Roots
- Rasin- music” came to identify their music, says Sanba
Ayizan, when a radio show that played Vodun music hosted by Jean Francillon,
on Haitian national radio, called it “Roots music” after
playing a Sanba Yo demo for the listeners. The label stuck and caught
fire. And groups who played Vodun music and drumming, with modern instrumentations,
soon became widely known as Rasin – Roots - musicians.
Sanba Yo only played at the universities and only for revolution, education
and healing. These artists called each other “Sanba” in
the Haitian tradition of a Sanba - the African artist/philosopher or
poet/griot chronicler of the life and heart of their people. The Sanbas’
lived in cooperative ways - sharing ownership of everything they had,
living to enjoy the simple things in life - to extend a community collective;
to promote and elevate the whole Haitian community, not just the individual,
not Western religions, foreign languages or traditions. But Kreyol,
Haitian history, culture, Ginen values, Haitian herbal cures and the
healing and cooperative Vodun ways of living and being. Their means,
their sickle and machete, leaves and herbs, was music - sacred songs,
Vodun rhythms and the traditional Vodun instruments.
Here is how the organizers of Zakafest, a festival celebrating the spirit
of Agriculture and Labor with Haitian Culture, describe the Sanba Movement:
“Starting in the late 1970s, youth from Port-au-Prince began
experimenting with new types of life. To question the notion of "the
Haitian nation", several men led by Louis Lesly Marcelin, also
known as Sanba Zao began trying a new way of living, embodied in the
Sanba Movement. They drew upon global trends in black power, Bob Marley,
"Hippie"-dom, as well as prominently from rural life in Haiti.
They dressed in the traditional blue denim (karoko) of peasants, eschewed
the commercialized and processed life offered by global capitalism,
and celebrated the values in communal living.”
4. GROUP SA (Foula Jazz)
Jazz: 1981- 1991
There is some dispute, but the first PERFORMING Roots music group who
actually did public gigs, was not Boukman Eksperyans but a band called
Group Sa. According to Haitian Roots music pioneer, Chico Boyer, Group
Sa was the very first ever Roots PERFORMING band in Haiti, at around
So, the group that started Roots music performances in Haiti was called
"Group Sa" and was made up of: Tido Lavaud, Chico Boyer, Doudou
Chancy, Jean Robert Bernadotte and Nazaire Jean Baptiste.
Before them, there were lots of “Rara” sorts of Roots bands
that used no electronic instruments. One of the more well known of these
bands like "Vaksin" came together after Group Sa,
but Vaksin used no electronic instruments. They played traditional
Haitian bamboo and tin wind instruments. (For an example listen to some
After Group Sa, came the dynamic Foula Jazz in the late 1980s, founded
by Tido Lavaud (lead vocal/guitar) and Chico Boyer (bass), and included
Turgo Theodat (saxophone), Bonga Jean-Baptiste (drums) and Jean Raymond
Giglio (drums). Then Boukman Eksperyans (the second incarnation), then
Meanwhile, all the original members of the Sanba Yo band where around
Group Sa. Sanba Zao (Louis Lesly Marcelin), Sanba Gregory “Azouke”
Sanon, and Sanba Harry “Ayizan” Sanon officially created
the band “Sanba Yo” when Group Sa broke off, split and changed
names and musicians and regrouped as Foula Jazz. At some point they
all played together and for a time Sanba Azouke and Sanba Ayizan had
actually joined Foula. (Watch, Foula songs: Neg
Kap Pote and Sove.)
Sanba Azouke and Sanba Ayizan count amongst the original pioneering
Sanbas who started Roots music in Haiti with the legendary, Sanba Zao.
(See also the Carnegie
Hall clip - http://www.margueritelaurent.com/media/QT6_400_Streaming_NTSC.mov
where Ezili Dantò performs on stage, in 2004 with Sanba Azouke,
Sanba Ayizan their younger brother, Sanba Jude “Yatande”
In our interview from Haiti, Sanba Zao confirmed that after he left
"Group Sa and Foula Jazz," that's when he formed Sanba Yo.
He said the Sanba Movement started around 1978. Boukman Eksperyans [the
second incarnation] wasn't in existence then. It was an idea then...When
Fanfan Alexi left Haiti, Boukman Eksperyans was not yet formed. Boukman
was formed in 1990. Before then they were into Carlo Santana, not Racine
Lyrics ....Boukman Eksperyans didn't make it big until they entered
an American Airlines contest and then the carnival...We didn't do carnival.
Would not play for murderer like Prosper Avril and Frank Romain....It
was Dadie Beaubrun who put Boukman's sound on the map, made the music
techno – with the drum machine….he made the arrangements.."
THE ORIGINAL MEMBERS OF SANBA YO
The three founding members of Sanba Yo where Zao, Azouke and Ayizan,
all from the area of (zòn) Kafou Fey. Soon came Aboudja,
Zilibo, Sanba G., Sanba Guy and Yangòdò. These eight guys
were the Original Sanbas of Haiti. At a later point when Zilibo left
the band, Matisou replaced him.
In terms of liberation and Vodun Racine/Roots music, the group, Sanba
Yo, was it. In the words of one musician form Foula “Sanba Yo
were the pure traditionalists, whose music was solely about elevating,
empowerment and revolution.”
So, what happened to the group Sanba Yo? To Azouke, Ayizan, Aboudja,
Zao, Zilibo, Matisou, Sanba G., Sanba Guy and Yangòbò
- the Racine/Roots music band that is credited as the pioneers of pure
Haitian Roots music? The 1991 coup d'etat against President Aristide's
first government happened and they all scattered to survive - abroad
or as internal refugees marooned in Haiti. So did the members of Foula
Jazz. Many have chosen to form Rasin bands with Haitian artists in the
Diaspora. Sanba Zao, however, stayed in Haiti during the coup d'etat
But, to get back to the music. Some folks will tell you that Boukman
Eksperyans fused Vodun music with rock 'n roll and blues. That Foula
fused their Vodun sounds with Jazz influences. But that the Sanba Yo
musicians fused themselves to a Haitian sound born of the struggle to
get rid of Duvalier’s dictatorship, a Haitian sound tethered only
to Haiti’s freedom and unadulterated Vodun drumming and songs.
According to the celebrated Sanba Zao,
"the vision I had for the music was that it would be the definitive
Haitian sound, gaining respect as Haiti's indigenous creation, like
Reggae gets respect for Jamaica. The Sanbas were looking for a sound
that gave us a doctrine to use, like the Rastas' used Reggae. It would
not be primarily derivative with foreign flavors like what the trained
Haitian musicians in Haiti were playing. They were into Santana, Jimmy
Hendrix, Brazilian, Jazz, French, Cuban and Latin sounds. I wanted a
form of music that was not imitative. Ki soti Lakay nou - That
originated from us. The
would teach Haiti's culture through
art....The music that comes from the soul of Haiti's Vodun temples -
Lakou-yo - needed to be respected. It is a pure Haitian creation.
Using Vodun lyrics. I wanted what is ours, elevated. That's the rawness
Sanba Yo brought to the Rasin Movement. And then, the trained musicians
like Chico Boyer and the artists at professor Denis Emile's enclave
and the others who were elsewhere in the mix at that time, saw something
new.... Put that rawness I and the other street Sanbas brought to music.
The music that is now called Rasin."
Sanba Yo Recordings
Sanba Zao further explains that they "were recorded at studio Audio
Tech at Delma 48, by someone named Paul of Island Records in 1986 or
1987. The song 'Vaksinen,' was released in a compilation album
called Konbit (with others like Skacha, Tabou Combo, Frè
Payan, et al)."
"I wrote the Vaksinen song," says Sanba Azouke, the
multi-talented and deeply soulful singer of Sanba Yo, "and it was
arranged by the band. Charles Neville of the Neville Brothers played
the zax on the song. Jonathan Demme was involved in the Vaksinen
song and Jean Fabeus made the video clips for Sanba Yo's Vaksinen
song, which was for a UNICEF vaccination campaign."
However, although Sanba Yo recorded many songs. They did not get a chance
to make or release an official album. Sanba Zao explains that "The
Sanbas were always being thrown in jail by the military authorities.
The police didn't understand us. Our attire was different. We wore the
attire of the Haitian rural, agricultural peasant, like Kouzen Zaka.
We wore rubber sandals (pantouf), the peasant's blue pants
(pantalon abako ble) - denim (karabel)
clothing, a flat sack (ralfò, a
djakout) or pouch hanging down across our bodies, big Afro
hair under a hat (Cheve kankou yon gwo mesh, Cheve Simbi, or Cheve
Louten), and a red handkerchief ( mouchwa rouj)
tucked in our back pocket. We were different. We talked about different
things. We scared the authorities. We were Vodun walking around in public...The
only reason I have a collection of our earlier recordings is that I
later worked at a radio station and found archived copies of our songs
they used to play on the radio and made copies for my personal files.
That's why I have the recordings of our songs that use to play on Haitian
radio all the time."
Sanba Zao and Azouke say Movement Sanba started around 1978, 1979. Their
demos, recordings [Give
Up Cocaine, Vaksinen, Yo Lage Neg Yo, Ayiti Kad Anfòm, Neg Yo
Kite Dola a Pran Men Yo Mennen Yo Ale, Legba Louvri Barye, O Lemiso...],
recordings of performances at the
Universities made the rounds at the various Haitian radio station. "The
recordings and video clips of their performances from those days, still
exists and are being shown in places as far away as Japan," says
Chico Boyer. Sanba Zao says they came first in the Rasin music field,
before Boukman Eksperyans. "The proof is that we still have the
Learning to Write Down the Vodun Rhythms
It seems one cannot embrace Haiti without
embracing Vodun. But also embracing Jazz and Rock 'n Roll gave Foula
Jazz and Boukman Eksperyans access to the U.S. market. That's not to
be dismissed. But the Sanba Movement, presumably was not looking to
the U.S. market. So perhaps that is also why Sanba Yo did not add Jazz,
Rock and Roll or foreign influences as the other two racine music pioneering
bands of Boukman Eksperyans and Foula. Some even say the Sanbas were
too raw! “Te gen twop tet cho.” One insider comments,
"They were good artists, the best. But the drama factor was also
high – yo te ap toujou pran lwa.”
I ask the remarkably talented Chico
Boyer, who is now also the premier and much sought-after producer/composer
of Haitian music and talent in New York, if he agrees, as Sanba Azouke
does, that you can't play the Vodun rhythms unless you are using the
"I disagree," say Chico Boyer,
a bass player and the co-founder of Foula Jazz. "You can't say
that Vodun music can only be played with the Vodun drums. Besides, you
know we didn't learn Jazz to be imitative. We learned Jazz to figure
out how to play the Vodun rhythms. There was no school in Haiti teaching
us how to do that..."
"We wanted to read and write the
Vodun music, didn't know how to do it. Jazz is the only African music.
Learning it allowed us to write down the Vodun rhythms. Learning how
to read and write music, this is the only way we could write our own.....Jazz
is African. Their form is our form of music. We wanted to learn to teach
music and chords. To mark music. It was the only African music we could
use as a reference. We didn't want to learn how to compose music by
studying classical music as everyone else in Haiti were doing..."
"...I learned from (Professor) Denis how to read and write music.
I didn't know how to read music before I got there. And we chose to
learn Jazz because it was an African music. Once we learned to read
and write Jazz music. Then we could listen to the oral musicians play
- Sanba Yo and the people at the Vodun Temples - and write down their
notes." says Chico Boyer.
Chico explained that the musician of
Foula gave the scientific part of creating the music more emphasis.
They focused on writing "harmonically, melodically, rhythmically."
Apparently, thirty years ago in Haiti
(circa, 1979), there was no specific music programs to teach young Haitians
to read and write music, except within the church schools. "Unless
you could pay for a private teacher, the main place that was teaching
music was Saint Trinity" says Chico. "Sa a se te travay
etranje -...but, it was just classic. We didn't want to leave an
oral tradition. We learned how to read and write and play Jazz music
so that we could put down the Vodun rhythms, melodies and harmonies.
So that what we created, we wrote it. We don't want some white person
writing our rhythms and getting it wrong. I've seen some of their books
on the Vodun rhythms, and it's a travesty...The Vodun rhythms are very
sophisticated. Very, very complicated. We wanted to put it on paper
for the next generation."
This may not apply to everyone, but from what I've gathered in conversation
with the Sanbas, it seems many of the street Sanbas who had grown up
playing the Vodun rhythms by ear were the stars who played what was
being written down, so other instrumentalists at Professor Denis, could
learn the Vodun rhythms, join in and create new sounds. It could be
that these very young Haitian Sanbas had then neither the school training
nor the patience to stop and learn to write Jazz so they could know
how to read and write their own music as well as teach it to the others.
Especially if they were raised with the music and it was a visceral
part of them. Breaking it down could be difficult, and feel like they
were reducing it.
Sanba Zao, the main founder of the Sanba
Movement and Sanba Yo band tells it like this: "...Mwen te
fè lekti ak Pwofesè Denis. Li t ap montre nou armoni.
Lòt yo te Sanba yo te ye. Yo vini ak rechèch pou moun
yo.... - I studied music, learned harmony with Professor Denis.
But the others were Sanbas. They came with the knowledge of the people
that the folks were glad to learn about."
6. ART THAT TEACHES HAITIAN CULTURE AND VALUES
According to one well respected and knowledgeable Rasin musician not
in the Sanba Yo band, who wishes to remain anonymous, of the three original
bands, Sanba Yo was viscerally "the Roots band closest to the Haitian
culture. More so than any other pioneering Roots bands because their
sound came from their environment. Their lyrics and melodies came from
the sound of the streets. They had a spontaneity not shared by the more
musically orientated Foula and Boukman Eksperyans bands. Sanba Yo put
the Haitian people’s life into a new musical vocabulary. They’re
stage performances and delivery captured and expressed the feelings
of the small vendors in the streets of Haiti, the noise and texture
of it, the rhythm of the tap taps. In their songs, you can feel the
heat of the hot Haitian sun beating into the earth. Even if their lyrics
where not literally expressing this, you felt the market women selling
their wares, the temperature of the moving sun, the chewing of the vendors’
"fritay" - fast foods - on the streets, the heart and soul
of the peristyle (Vodun temple), the sound of a bottle falling on the
ground. You could feel and hear the drip and splash on baked earth of
a down-turned libation bottle calling up the Vodun ancestors.”
The musicians of Sanba Yo, were playing for a purpose, to tell of the
people’s struggles and needs for freedom, to give a voice for
their call for health care, for schools, jobs, inclusion. They played
from the heart of Haiti. They played for Revolution. Sanba Yo were not
commercial musicians. They did not play carnival. "Nou te vle
kreye yon lòt mòd de vi, says Sanba Azouke. Go back
to our roots."
Listening to these artists express their
defiance like this, throughout our talks, brought to my mind something
one of Haiti's founding fathers, Henry Christophe, once said. It was
after General Toussaint Louverture had defeated the French and Napoleon
Bonaparte sent Leclerc's 50,000-strong expedition to re-enslave the
African warriors. Toussaint Louverture gave orders to all his generals
that the expedition was not to be allowed to land on Haitian soil. So
when French General Leclerc got to Cap Haitian and sent a landing party
to hype up Henri Christophe, offering him fame and fortune, General
Henry Christophe of Cap Haitian sent a messengers to tell them they
were not welcome and could not be received. And that if they landed,
at the sight of the first white man on Haitian land, the great Henri
Christophe promised he would give orders to burn down Cap Haitian, starting
with his own mansion first. And, "on these ashes I will kick your
butts out of Haiti." The French landed. Henri Christophe burnt
his own house down first and on the ashes kicked France out of Haiti
to liberate all the Africans and help create, the nation of Haiti.
The young men of Sanba Yo were following in Henry Christophe's footsteps,
when they refused the commercial hypes. In effect, like Henri Christophe,
they had nothing that was worth losing their freedom for. They wanted
to burn down what was holding Haiti back and create something new from
the ashes. They were raw, unschooled artists. Soldiers, who like Henry
Christophe and Jean Jacques Dessalines, would not speak Chinese to someone
who only understood Spanish. They played straight up traditional Haitian
music, to create a new day.
In 1991, the Bush administration of
George the Senior, let loose General Cedras' junta and the Stanley Lucas/Apaid/Boulos
neo-Duvalieriests onto these young Haitian men, on all of Haiti's Rasin
musicians and the defenseless people of Haiti, deposing Aristide, returning
But, many who went abroad used their art, fundraising and working in
collaboration with artists in the Diaspora, to help end the US-supported
Cedras military rule. Tido of Foula Jazz, for instance, met and worked
with So Ann in New york.
The 1991 Coup d'etat retarded much cultural work that was being done
in many areas in Haiti, including obstructing the Kreyol literacy campaign
explosion set loose after the 1986 ouster of the Duvaliers. But the
achievements of the first three pioneering Haitian Rasin bands are still
amazing. After the works of these three bands, other Rasin bands, in
Haiti and abroad, took the baton and put in other musical influences.
Following Group Sa, you had Foula, which is a regrouping of the Group
Sa musicians when that group disbanded, and then the performing Boukman
Eksperyans (in its second incarnation, started around 1987) and, of
course, Sanba Yo as the original three, each translating Vodun music
in their own ways. Each had three different styles. Styles that are
now being copied and re-translated by all those who have come after.
Edy Francois: Let’s note here that when the great,
Edy Francois, left Boukman Eksperyans (the second incarnation), you
then had, another soon-to-be-famous, roots band - Boukan Ginen.
7. WHAT IS ROOTS MUSIC AND STYLES
OF ROOTS - RASIN - MUSIC:
So, what is Haitian Roots (Racine or Rasin) music? It is music that
uses the elements of Vodun as its vocabulary. The group “Sanba
Yo” are the pure Vodun Roots music traditionalists. They were
solely about revolution like the original Bwa Kayiman Vodun adherents
of the people of Haiti.
"Foula is grounded in Vodun roots but with elements of Jazz infused,"
says Chico Boyer, one of the founding members of Foula, who is also
a founding member of Group Sa and even played as a sideman at some Boukman
Eksperyans and Boukan Ginen gigs.
Some of the folks who helped to orientate the Sanba Yo musicians, who
at the beginning where just lost young men with great talent and vision,
searching to express their pains, dreams and passions, where Harry Thisfil,
a Haitian guitar player who had immigrated to Germany and returned to
Haiti. Others they credit with orienting their Sanba Movement and connecting
them to the Haitian universities (around 1979, 1980) to perform and
expose their music, are Rachel Beauvoir (writer/sociologist), Didier
Dominique (an engineer/architect by trade) and Tommy Day (pharmacist/massage
Exposure to these street Sanbas and their Vodun music, in turn influenced
Haiti's university student to take notice of Vodun, their own history,
Ginen values and start frequenting the Vodun temples (peristyles). This
is what gave Haiti's Racine music its political maturity and momentum
and what made it a target of the powerful economic elites who feed on
exclusion and inequity in Haiti.
So, you had Foula, Sanba Yo, and Boukman Eksperyans. All three are originals
with their own different flavors.
Vodun Jazz was born with Foula. Vodun Rock and Roll comes out of Boukman
Eksperyans and the Sanba Yo created Vodun Roots ("Rasin").
Boukman Eksperyans (the second incarnation in 1987, with Daniel Beaubrun,
Mimerose Beaubrun and Lolo Beaubrun) started a musical movement that
combined the elements of traditional Haitian Vodun ceremonial and folkloric
music with rock and roll. They are the most well known of the original
three Rasin bands and are credited with popularizing this style of modern
Haitian music reaching back to the roots of the Vodun tradition.
All three musical groups are founders of one of the styles of Haiti’s
Roots ("Rasin") music.
This conversation with some of the original
members of Foula and Sanba Yo has been instructive. These are some amazing
artists with gripping tales to tell that go beyond the parameters of
this introduction. A whole book couldn't do justice to their story,
much less this tiny article. Next week (May 1 to May 4, 2008), I will
be on-stage in Miami
performing along side these Racine musicians and Sanbas for the Zakafest.
Foula's long awaited reunion is highly anticipated. And the original
Sanba Yo founders will be there. (Ezili
Dantò live in Miami with Sanba Yatande, Ti Rouj & Manno).
But as I finish this piece for now.
I end with three Ezili Dantò points.
Ezili Dantò's Point Number One:
I note and underline the positive roles played by certain educated Haitians,
who love their culture and people, in bringing Sanba Yo's talents to
university students. This role Haitians with means can play in uplifting,
connecting, and empowering the disenfranchised and excluded bearers
of our heritage, at home and abroad, for re-educating those in Haiti's
universities cannot be overstated.
Secondly, earlier in my legal career,
I worked as an entertainment lawyer. Back then, when I saw what was
happening in Hip Hop with the East-West Coast rivalry, I thought it
a good idea to re-introduce the grandfathers of rap, like the Last Poets,
back onto the scene. To be an anchor to those who came afterwards. It
didn't work. Those musicians were themselves still fighting over turf.
So, in this Haitian version of who came first, who is the "baddest",
the pioneer, etc. I decline to participate. For, it's as meaningless
to our liberation as a people, as the turf battles of the rappers.
But, here's the point: when what
starts out as a liberation movement, as freedom music, soon becomes
about the individual artist, the concept of promoting the African collectivity
You can have the outer trappings, the
Ginen clothes, the Kreyòl words, the Ginen drums, the dred,
Afro-mesh hair, but that doesn't mean you've attained a wholly
Ginen consciousness. If, at some point in the journey, you leave your
brother or sister behind, and don't even look back to see if he/she
needs a hand up from where he/she's fallen, you're not Ginen.
Ezili Dantò's Second
The second point adds to the first. Just because these three bands were
instrumental in bringing the indigenous, native Haitian music to the
world, that does not mean all their individual participants were Ginen,
or Fran Ginen, all the time, or, for some, even part of the
time. The ones I've interviewed are still in the struggle. Much wiser,
they own battle scars from the falls, have renewed self many times,
knowing that Vodun is indestructible. There are others, though, who
were there, it seems to play a new music, perhaps were enamored with
the camaraderie, accolades. But, by their actions, seem to have used
the Movement as a means for personal advancement and pleasures. But
arms are open in Vodun. What the journey takes, can be restored and
healed by going back to the source. And those who are healed amongst
these artists can heal the others, so all may move forward, together
- as in the beginning. That's Ginen.
Fran Ginen is someone who is
totally committed to the Haitian people and culture with no compromise.
A Haitian like Henry Christophe, who, when promised fame and fortune
by the whites who want to land on what is his - would not hesitate to
say "there is nothing you've got, worth losing my freedom for."
Fran Ginen live what they preach. Fran Ginen is when
what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony. That's
It is only when we are rooted in our own "Vodun
psychology and cosmology, in our own history and legacy to the world"
that the Haitian people will be uplifted and set upon the right track.
And that is what those of us interested in paradigm shifts must come
away with from these interviews. (See also, Ezili
Dantò translates and analyzes the Vodun song -Going Back to Root
O M Pwale - I'm Returning to the Beginning/Source/Root).
The crux of Haiti's problem is that: when your own government, your
own people don't invest or care for their own culture, then you are
susceptible to the first foreigner who comes along with a bible to pacify
you and a dollar to put food in your stomach. You find yourself unwittingly
disrespecting what's yours or what you're preaching.
For instance, I talked to Sanba Zao about this Vaksinen song,
a song that promoted toxic Western drugs when in traditional history
the Haitian Sanbas were endowed with God (Lwa) Zaka's gifts
for healing with herbs and leaves.
He said, "It was the epoch."
"Back then the Haitian Ministry of Health was pushing health care
and advertisement and vaccines against AIDs. I don't like to take their
medicines either and prefer our herbal cures. But that was the epoch."
"But," I say, "what about the commitment to Vodun, to
the Sanba Movement of self-reliance." Zao responds, "you don't
understand. In Haiti everything is religious, Protestant, Catholic...
Everything. Really religious. Even the musicians running around claiming
Rasin music...are not too keen with saying the word 'Vodun' too loud
in Haiti, for fear of the religious folks and elite establishment. They
will say its 'Rasin', but not 'Vodun' music."
I think as long as this goes on. As
long as these foreigners hold the reigns of education in Haiti, and
Haiti is forced into denying its own culture, its own self, its own
interests. Then, no sustainable change will take root. In the end, you'll
look up and find that those "more
schooled in the patterns and privileges of domination"
have won again, and you are simply part of the sub-contracted Haitians.
Using Black to sell Western "medicine" - whether it's their
vaccines, free trade, globalization or various "privatization"
schemes. Sa a se pa Ginen ditou - That's not Ginen at all.
If the song is not promoting your ideology, if the religion is making
you hate yourself and your whole entire African lineage, if the "free
trade" is destroying your national production, it should immediately
be too bitter a taste to swallow. And the Maroon, the Ginen within must
get you to say: "No. There's nothing you can promised me to get
me to lose my freedom and be dependent on you. Moreover, I will never
use my connection to Ginen, my connection to the people of Haiti to
sell your Western "medicines" to them. So, if you want to
land, don't expect me to go out and use my Ginen connections to calm
the masses down for you. For the Ginen in me requires I burn down my
own mansion first and on the ashes, kick your butt out of Haiti. Get
you out of my head with your various opiums - religion, gangster rap,
sex, power, drugs, guns, et al. No fame or celebrity recognition you
offer, will turn my head."
Ezili Dantò's Third Point:
Lastly, the artists interviewed talked about their different
styles of Haitian Rasin music. That Sanba Yo did not add Jazz, Rock
and Roll or foreign influences as the other two racine music pioneering
bands of Boukman Eksperyans and Foula. The thought that comes to my
mind here is how absolutely critical it is for Haitians to be re-educated,
and to recapture their own history.
The ecclesiastical school systems in
Haiti are centers, not for education, but for brainwashing the African
with views promoting the agenda, beauty, history, values, literature,
economics, greed and power of the Euro-American. They're about division
and pacification, and if that doesn't work, they're about creating chaos
and impasse that leads to coup d'etats in Haiti, all with the same aim
- to better rob Haitians blind and keep Haiti contained-in-povety for
their own glee.
And so, it's came to past, that around the year 1979, at two centers
of Haitianist study, Haitian musicians with good intentions, added Rock
and Roll and Jazz to Haitian native music and created, what? ah yeah
- Rasin music!!!
It's hilarious really. The circle we've allowed ourselves to keep threading
is viciously sad.
If Haitians were taught their world
accomplishments in these schools in Haiti, they would know who they
are. Know that Jazz, the only indigenous music of the United States,
originated out of the Vodun drums and traditional wood
and wind instruments of Haiti and was imported to New Orleans by the
African slaves whose masters' fled the Haitian Revolution. They would
know American Rock 'n Roll came out of Jazz and the Blues. (Ayiti's
sounds are drawn in Jazz's very pores "... Adrift,
like the pain and pathos of Johnny Coltrane and Miles Davis's jazz horns...").
But, when your history has been lost. You're lost.
You will sell your current life force, your soul and talents to buy
what's been yours, from the beginning, and not even know you just got
Sanba Yo had it right. Ayibobo. Haiti
still needs a grassroots Sanba Movement. My hope is that folks like
Sanba Zao, Ayizan,
Azouke, Chico, Daniel Beaubrun, Fanfan Damas, Rozna Zila, Gaston "Bonga"
Jean-Baptiste and his son, James "Tiga"
Jean-Baptiste, will join with the young Dreds, the young Pitha Dred,
Nati Dred; Haiti's young Ginens in Haiti, the young Yatandes'
of today and help lead it. Foula Jazz also had it right, only Ginen
can write Ginen without putting in discordant notes. Ayibobo. There's
work to be done in Haitian music and the use of Haitianist art to teach
Ginen culture. Beloved, make more room for the women Sanbas and musicians
and give the new generation the benefit of your education and experiences.
Let them not have to spin around on the same treadmill. But be able
to build upon your new works to come.
Marguerite Laurent/Ezili Dantò, Esq.
Founder and Chair, Haitian Lawyers Leadership Network (“HLLN”)
April 27, 2008