A Haitian History Refresher (with a beat)

Written on January 26, 2010 by Felicia Appenteng in Arts & Cultures & Societies

Felicia Appenteng

In the wake of the recent tragedy in Haiti, and the all consuming media coverage, I think it's important to take a proper look at Haitian history. Not just the history of extreme poverty as told by the mainstream media, but the great stories told by Haitians themselves.

I turn to Afropop Worldwide, a marvelous organization which is dedicated to African music and the music of the African Diaspora. Afropop Worldwide is a radio program, a web site, a searchable database, an international musical archive, and a team of dedicated researchers. "Afropop" is also now used as a general term to describe popular African music. In 2007, they produced a piece about Haitian history as seen through its music.

I urge all lovers of history, knowledge and music to listen to this fantastic program.

Music and the Story of Haiti
on Afropop Worldwide

From Vodou to Compas to Racine to Rara and Beyond
Haiti became the first black-ruled republic in the Americas in 1804, and music has mirrored, and at times shaped, the twists and turns of Haiti's politics and culture ever since. A primary source of Haitian culture is Dahomey, the birthplace of vodou–the most commonly held world view among Haitian people today. We explore how each of Haiti's rulers has championed his own preferred music. The Duvalier dictators favored compas dance music, and suppressed the most African-identified cultural expressions. When Baby Doc was run out of the country in 1986, African-derived racine, or roots, music exploded. Elizabeth McAlister, professor of religion at Wesleyan University, and Holly Nicolas–interweave music and history to tell a dynamic, and at times heart-breaking story. Included in the mix we'll hear the sweet sound of troubadour balladeers, as well as the exuberant tones of rara bands, the call and response of a capela kombit songs of work parties, impassioned choral music of evangelical churches, and the sophisticated, improvisational rhythms used in vodou rituals.

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