It’s carnival time in Haiti. Earthquakes come and go, but the musicians are still there.
Time: 12 tracks / 44 mins
When a disc’s first track is a quick, almost inaudible aural soundscape, called “Intro: Morning in Jacmel,” it gives a sense of ownership to the project. They might well have sung, “We love this place, welcome to our world!”
In this case, their world is Haiti and the performers are a “multigenerational collective of... musicians formed in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake.”
That variety in the team means that the music has a varied set of styles, but still retains that collective identity.
So we get the infectious danceabilty of “Anbe Siklon”, with its rhythms reminiscent of African highlife; the definite Santana feel of “Zao Pile Tè” (spoilt only by a very brief dodgy cornet solo); a tremendously mature title track (think the build-up part of Gabriel’s “Biko”). There are also a couple of short traditional chants, which gave singer Nadine Remy, an evangelical Christian, concerns about the project. She was initially uncomfortable singing some songs from the vodou tradition, but joined after her family were OK with it. Perhaps they read Paul’s letter to the Galatians about Christian freedom.
The insight into their culture is as much through the song content as the music. “Peze Kafe” is the story of a boy sent by his parents to sell coffee on the street corner, who gets arrested for doing so, knowing that he faces a whipping when he gets back home.
“Panama’m Tonbe” (translated ‘My Panama hat has fallen’) is a classic Haitian song, based on the story of a president whose hat fell off while he was travelling to put down a rebellion in Jacmel, only for him to suffer a heart attack and die, so making a falling hat a symbol of bad luck. It still sounds bouncy, though, as do all nearly all these pieces, and seems to sum up the Haitians’positive approach to dealing with whatever life throws at them.
“Pran Ka Mwen," assuredly sung by Remy, is a plea for looking after one another and was collected by the famous ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax in the 1930s and has lost none of its appeal over the years.
This is very much about preserving their culture in the face of all that would remove it (not least hurricanes and earthquakes). The album’s title means, “You tell them, we’re still here!” They certainly are.