Haiti Musicology 101 with Melodie Production
Editor’s note: The two-year anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti just passed over the weekend, and while the country continues to struggle toward recovery, at least one true sign of “normalcy” remains as prevalent as ever: traffic. Haiti’s roadways are notoriously snarled, a drawback that our friend and Haiti relief worker, Ivy Kuperberg, has turned into a positive, taking advantage of her traffic time to gain an appreciation for some uncommon Haitian music…
There’s nothing like a good Port-au-Prince traffic jam to make you appreciate the importance of Haitian music. Or rather, Haitian radio. In my work, five-hour trips into the countryside are not uncommon. Even trips in and around Port-au-Prince often require three-hour car rides. (As you can imagine, they’re perpetually repairing the roads.) Anyway, to stay sane, you need Haitian radio.
Over the course of my three years in Haiti, I’ve come to love the wonder that is Haitian radio, fluidly switching between a mix of heavy un-censored American rap, “best of” collections from Phil Collins and Lionel Ritchie, and Pocahontas’ Color of the Wind, the latter being played at 1:00am on my way back from a long dinner of Haitian griot.
But what really makes Haitian radio so special are the plentiful homegrown rhythms thrown into the mix. While I could attempt to impress and name some of the Haitian greats, I tend to veer more toward the local boy bands and pop stars, whose songs such as Kidnapping taught me that the aforementioned title phrase can also be employed in Haitian Creole to refer to your significant other’s “clingy” tendencies. (Money line: “If my mother does not bother me like this, and my father does not bother me like this, why are you such a pain in my, shall we say, bottom?”)
Of course, having your own backup music supply is always a smart idea. Haitian radio can be a fickle friend between cities, going out when you need it most. (For example: when you’re enjoying douce makos – a sweet Haitian confectionery – and could use a little distraction from all the calories you’re inhaling.)
For times like these, I have my douce makos covered iPod into which I’ve uploaded songs from the group Melodie Production, who’s Haitian version of When the Saint’s Go Marching In make the first two hours of any traffic jam bearable, and who’s Tenacity picks up hours two-to-four. Haiti Don’t Die can be used for those emergency four-hour+ jams that occur in the middle of a country road with douce makos dealers in sight.
Through my work with The Pan American Development Foundation I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to sit down with the group and film a few intimate performances like the one below. Forgive my camerawork, but enjoy the melodies…
This is Ivy’s first guest post for Uncommon Caribbean, though we hope it’s not her last. We also hope to catch up with her in-person some day soon to learn more about all the great work she and her colleagues are doing to make Haiti a better place.
For more on The Pan American Development Foundation, including ways in which you can help them in their mission, please visit them online.