Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Haitian Kanaval

Great music in Haiti is political. Few successful musicians make music for the sake of music. They are bound to produce something meaningful to the society, seeking its upliftment through their beats and words. The best musicians do this with style and flare. The worst ones mimic what they think is expected of them.
Kanaval is that time of year when invited musicians take to Chan Mars (the streets) to display their talents. The crowd gathers to hear which band said what, how, when and with which instruments. We want to hear the different accents, new vocabulary and the ways politicians and their exploits are exposed. Watching the news can be boring, but listening to Kanaval songs will make you sit up and listen.
Because music is political in Haiti, not all bands are invited to participate in Kanaval. The ban alone leads to some of the best songs ever written on exclusion, freedom of speech, abuse of power and fear of musicians.
But I do believe some bands should not be allowed to participate in Kanaval. As I mentioned, Kanaval is time for the voiceless to hear their aspirations, ideas, dreams for a better Haiti articulated through song and dance. Kanaval is that time when the koudjay (not the band, but the verb) of the “ti neg” is celebrated. And when the people, and the musicians that represent them, fuse on the streets.
But not all musicians can pull this off. Not all musicians can speak for the people. Some songs celebrate the band’s ego and criticize their competitors and warn them that “nou la, nap toujou la,” and that is great on its own. Some musicians however, knowing that they must go beyond stroking their egos, sing the “good” words because they know what is expected, but not because they believe in the messages. I cannot believe that some mulatto bands (they know who they are) want an end to the violence in Haiti. The mixed race and small white and Lebanese elite operate on a “Ayiti kraze” and their class/race in Haiti are only possible if the violence, which they support/protect, continues and thrives. I cannot believe that those musicians are anti politicians exploiting the nation and its people, unless those politicians are anti their class/race. I don’t believe they are tired of the violence; but they know we are.
I don’t know any of those bands personally, but I know the class/race they represent. They have not been silent on their position either; hence why so many Haitians have a love/hate relationship with one particular band. I think some of their regular Konpa songs are good, but when I think of what they represent in Haiti and how their group will only thrive at the benefit of “pitite Soyet” I cannot but think of their Kanaval songs as mocking the Haitian people.

But there is a lesson to be learned in their Kanaval songs and some of the music was good, (instruments, mixing different genres of Haitian music, tempo, etc) especially in 2006. But I think Kanaval should remain sacred and some bands should not be allowed to make a mockery of our hopes, aspirations, and dreams for a better Haiti; especially when they know that Haiti cannot exist if they persist. 

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Return our girls!

The news of kidnappings brings me back to analyzing the Atlantic Slave Trade. No matter where or when, my mind races back to the 17th century and I immediately sympathize with the modern family but their story also permits me better understanding of that evil part of history. I feel there is a message in modern capture that can better help us understand the past.
The news of kidnappings strikes a particular fear inside me. The thought of it conjures up panic visible in the quote, “they seemed to be staring at darkness, but their eyes were watching God.” I think of the victims; their thoughts, their psychology, their actions and how fear tries to recreate new human beings out of them. I think of the babies, children, men, and women. I think of their families; lactating moms, dads, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I think of their pain. I also think of them as members of their larger communities; as doctors, artists, jewelry makers, historians, teachers, bankers, writers and performers. Those people whose absence would make it harder for the community to continue. What could possibly be going through the minds? When do their nightmares end? Their horror could only be imagined in empathetic words.
I think the horror goes back to my cellular memory of being a person whose ancestors were victimized by the Atlantic Slave Trade. How can that crime be visualized, understood, or expressed? And in this story the lessons continue to unfold, even centuries later. It just cannot be forgotten.
And as I “hear” of the hundreds of Nigerian girls kidnapped from school, I postulate on similar situations that caused millions, centuries ago, to lose their ties, families, bonds, names, languages and cultures. What were the circumstances of their capture? What stories did the perpetrators create to better construct the slave? Will these girls be told that their families did not want them? That they were “sold”? Or that they are doing God’s Will by being subservient to more superior men, religion, class or color? Would the capturer write a book where boarding schools are reconstructed as spaces for rejected children? Will the idea of school and learning be re-imagined as inferior to better create these girls into something new?
When do their families move on? When do they forget? When do they stop telling the story? When do they stop singing and praying for their children to return? When do they begin to imagine these girls living better lives? When do the victors’ historians begin to rewrite what we know? And when do we allow the wrong and strong to have the last word?

These families will never forget. The same way families in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries did not forget. The pain was engraved in their cellular. The evidence is everywhere. The horror is tattooed in faces and the physical spaces as evidence of the crime and of the tears shed. Who can ever forget? Lack of songs and stories are evidence of terror too agonizing to relieve. And in that silence, faces, names, and memories continue to shout of this evil past. Ancestors continue to call back their children. That lactating mother whose baby was snatched from her bosoms continues to call her ancestors back. I hear the shouts. They do not end. They are reborn in early deaths, diseases, illnesses and psychological problems. They are growing. It just does not end.