By Garry Pierre-Pierre
In the early 1990s, a new musical genre burst into the scene in Haiti. The style, Rasin, or Roots music was an electric version of percussionist driven Vodou songs that were the staple of ceremonies.
Leading that movement was Boukman Eksperyans. The band provided some carnival classics like Kem pa sote, or am not afraid and Kalfou danjere, dangerous crossroads – that are still imitated by contemporary artists.
Three decades later, Boukman is still vibrant and relevant as the band released its latest CD, Isit E Kounyea La, or “Here and Now,” featuring 17 songs, albeit all under 4 minutes.
The CD provides us a glimpse into the social and political ills that ails Haiti, a country that seems to be perpetually mired in corruption and political malfeasance. “Here and Now” is classic Boukman with an up-tempo beat and biting lyrics. One of my favorite songs is Pepeye, which speaks of political leaders penchant for syphoning foreign aid to enrich themselves to the detriment of the suffering population.
Another of my favorite songs is the melodious Ganga, lead singers Mimerose Beaubrun, or Manze, and her husband Lolo Beaubrun, deliver a heartfelt duo. The guitarist provides some stirring solos that elevates the song to a sophisticated blend of electric and percussion that has been the signature sound of Boukman Eksperyans. It is also a danceable tune.
The CD, peppered with politically-edgy lyrics, will certainly be a hit with old and new Boukman devotees. It doesn’t disappoint. The album also features some of the old classics like Nou pap sa bliye, or We Can’t Forget, reminiscing about the first time they started playing “Vodou Music” It’s a cathartic moment.
Over the years, the political instability took a toll on Boukman and the Rasin movement. Most of the bands that followed Boukman like Koudjay, Tokay, Azor and others have disbanded. But with this new release, Boukman proves once again that it is the indisputable leader and torch-bearer of this unique Haitian musical genre.
In full disclosure Lolo Beaubrun is a cousin.
Boukman Eksperyans was founded by the Beaubruns. Lolo Beaubrun’s father, Languichatte, was one of the most famous comedians in Haiti. While on tour in the United States, he brought back a James Brown LP, which left a lasting impression on young Lolo. After his parents divorced, he followed his mother to Brooklyn. While living In the U.S., he attended college.
Lolo returned to Haiti in 1978, and there were bands playing music known as minidjaz as part of the first “roots” music movement. To Lolo, they seemed to pay no attention to song lyrics that dealt with reality. They were even accused of standing too close to the Duvaliers. When Lolo and Mimrose began to seek their musical goals, they felt a strong desire to incorporate the African element in Haiti’s culture into their music. They decided to combine roots music with vodou religious and musical traditions. The greater vision was to use their music to combine the structures found in common throughout world religions with Haitian vodou.
Lolo’s grandfather was deeply involved in Vodou, but his parents never made this available to him. Lolo and Mimrose entered their first Vodou lakous, a Haitian spiritual community, where they met musicians and singers. They also got their first real glance at the African culture of Haiti in the form it was handed down from members of various tribes. They founded a group to study Vodou music, gave it the name of Moun Ife (“People of the Abode of the Deities”). Lolo stated that Bob Marley, another important musical inspiration, made him think. When he heard the Jamaican legend in 1976, he thought he could create something similar in Haiti with Vodou. Lolo and Mimerose began to perform as a live act in the 1980s.
With “Here and Now,”Boukman has staked its turf and laid the groundwork for Rasin music to continue in its journey into the hearts and minds of the next generation of music lovers.