WINDOWS ON HAITI – The Bicentennial Concert

Chronique #67 – The Bicentennial Concert

Chronique musicale

January 1, 2004 marked the Bicentennial of the Haitian Revolution of 1804. It is a fact that this event was not celebrated the way most of us would have wished. However, many of us in the diaspora did intend, and indeed, celebrated this momentous act with all the pomp and fervor it deserved. In that respect, one of the most fitting tribute, if not the most fitting, must have been the Concert of the Bicentennial which took place at Carnegie Hall on January 3, 2004.

For those who missed it, unfortunately, this occasion will not be repeated. The good news however is that you can relive it through music, thanks to a wonderful CD made up of the music from the Concert. Entitled « Happy Birthday, Haiti », this CD which was released the same day as the Concert, is a unique blend of historic reciting by actor Danny Glover, artist Erna Letemps, Marguerite Laurent and ma
ny other activists, as well as recitation of vibrant poetry and just exquisite music. All the songs on the CD deal with the theme of Haiti. Songs played and replayed by so many other artists, but arranged in such a way that they sound fresh anew. It is amazing what fine arrangements can do to revive old material and there lies the genius of the producer of this CD, Jean Jean-Pierre.

I take this opportunity to pay a ringing tribute to Jean-Jean Pierre, the multi-talented drummer, composer, arranger and prime mover behind this project in the works for a year now. Although it was hard work, I am sure the reward must have been highly satisfying for him. Mr. Jean-Pierre labored for months and months, composing, arranging, writing, traveling and coordinating the whole thing with his Kiskeya Orchestra. Anyone who knows anything about music must have a better appreciation of what he did.

Among the major artists, Haitian and non-Haitians, who participated in the CD project, are actor Danny Glover,
actress Susan Sarandon, Ossie Davis, Lawyer Michael Ratner, Erna Letemps, singers the Mighty Sparrow, Boulo Valcourt, Jean-Claude Eugène, Carlo Glaudin, James Germain, Beethova Obas, Raymond Cajuste, the Harlem Gospel Choir, and so many more that it would take too much time to name here.

I cannot rave enough about the whole CD, which opens with Danny Glover reading a passage from the great Frederick Douglas speaking about Haiti in 1898. That set the tone for what is a beautiful opening with the theme of the CD : Happy Birthday, Haiti. This is a gem of a composition by Jean-Jean-Pierre. It had been a while since I had heard such moving and meaningful lyrics in a song about Haiti. About fourteen singers poured out their hearts and took turn to sing.

« Happy Birthday Haiti » is a tune which blends in different genres in one beautiful melody. Indeed, your hear some gospel, some blues and some Haitian drumming throughout played by Fritzner Augustin of the « Troupe Makandal ». He fits in perfectl
y with the rythm section. The Harlem Gospel Choir is just magnificent..

One of Jean Jean-Pierre’s greatest merits was the concern he expressed for respecting the original flavor of the songs. That is exactly what he did with Nemours Jean-Baptiste’s Ayiti Konpa. Should you close your eyes, you feel transported forty years ago back at home. The arrangements are such that the original flavor of each song is faithfully maintained. The orchestra Kiskeya, led by Jean-Pierre, does a masterful job. Made up of some of my favorites musicians, Welmyr Jean-Pierre on the piano and Makarios Césaire on the guitar. All the songs on the album : Marcel Sylvain, Bernard Wah, Lumane Casimir, Gérard Dupervil, Othello Bayard, Guy Durosier.

The last tune on the CD, the French version of « Happy Birthday Haiti » is followed by reading from Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon, Ossie Davis, and others. This is a real mini Haitian history that everyone should thoroughly enjoy. That is what makes this CD a unique experience
.

For those of us who were present at Carnegie Hall on January 3, we felt moved, proud, sad, happy, enriched and grateful that we had been able to live these 2 hours of history, all at the same time, as the concert unfolded. The CD is testimony of how much work went into the whole production of what I consider the biggest event of that nature in the diaspora in commemoration of this unique, once-in-a-lifetime event.

The CD is been sponsored by the United Nations Food Program and parts of the proceeds will be destined to humanitarian aid for Haiti. So, apart form the historical nature of this unique CD, you will be substantially contributing to alleviating poverty in Haiti by buying your copy. So happy listening !.

Serge Bellegarde
For Windows on Haiti, January 2004