Rara For The Revolutionary Music Of Haiti

cregnault_21 By Richard Gehr

The music of sinfully impoverished Haiti – from rara to more modern styles such as the mizik rasin (roots) played by Boukman Eksperyans – is brash and exciting, combining vodous rhythms played by slaves with the military marching-band instrumentation introduced by French colonialists. Yesterday in his New Yorker blog, Sasha Frere Jones posted the second installment of a roundtable discussion about Haitian music and politics with scholars and writers including Laurent Dubois, Edwidge Danticat, Ned Sublette, Garnette Cadogan, and Elizabeth McAlister. Here are some highlights:

"I often think of Haitian music as a kind of remarkable archive, one that keeps traces of the process of deportation, slavery, and revolution that created the nation.... But part of what also comes through in much Haitian music is a kind of response to the question 'What does revolution sound like?'" -- Laurent Dubois

"A maroon leader in the Port-au-Prince region named Halou, headed an army of two thousand maroons, whose leader 'marched preceded by the music of drums, lambis [conch shells], trumpets and sorcerers…'...That seems very possibly a historical source for the parading festival called 'rara.'... You can get a feel for parading rara music on this Web site." -- Elizabeth McAlister

"The Haitian revolution was a generative explosion for the popular music of the hemisphere. It sent populations up and down the Atlantic coast and the Antilles—and ultimately to New Orleans, where many families from Saint-Domingue were reunited....I would add the vocal legacy of the military drill, which evolved into the gruff vocal style of dancehall reggae. The adoption of this vocal style throughout the Antilles echoes the universality of the quadrille in the same territories two centuries ago, when a commandeur barked out the dance steps." -- Ned Sublette

"When I was a kid, it struck me that the rara was always demanding respect, both with its loudness and active recruitment as it went along. Sometimes the rara would stop in front of churches and try to drown out the sounds of the church service, leading many churches to organize retreats out of large cities during that time." -- Edwidge Danticat

"What does revolution sound like? This begs for a long answer, but consider this shortcut: Bob Marley.... Boukman Eksperyans, whose very name advertises their aesthetic—Boukman was a Vodou priest and slave who helped incite the 1791 rebellion that started the Haitian revolution; eskperyans (“experience”) is a nod to Jimi Hendrix —is an excellent example of pop wed to protest." -- Garnette Cadogan