By Rachele Viard
Though Canadian-Haitian percussionist Daniel Bellegarde has been on the music scene since the early 1980s, it’s only recently that he has released his debut album titled “Anba Tonèl” (Under Coverings). In this project, Bellegarde explores the rural world of Caribbean music from a European influence. From the contredanse, the quadrille and the minuet-congo, he takes listeners on a journey “under the coverings” of traditional folk music. The music on these tracks include instruments such as banjo, violin, guitar, manouba (kalimba bass) and traditional percussion from the Antilles (tanbou di bass, ti bwa, graj, chacha), which only adds to the unique sound emanating from the album. His passion is to share his cultural heritage with the world.
It took Bellgarde six years to complete Anba Tonèl, “It was a titanic job demanding perseverance,” he says. “This project happened by accident. Initially, I was interested in the music Rasin of Haiti (traditional). I received a scholarship from the Canada Council for the Arts to hone my skills with Frisner Augustin, a Haitian drummer.”
“Haiti and the Caribbean are, by their history, mixed race; a story that fascinates me, moreover, especially since my paternal grandfather, Windsor Bellegarde (brother of Dantès) wrote a textbook for Haitian schools. Reading several documents on the history of music in Haiti, I realized that there was little information on the contredanses, quadrilles, minuets-Congo, etc,” he says. “In the 80s, I had worked for over a year with the excellent Haitian drummer Georges Rodriguez and his troupe of dancers. The consultation of musicologists, archives and some Caribbean friends led me to note that Martinique, Guadeloupe and Dominica have the same problem in terms of information and dissemination. So I rolled up my sleeves and started writing and experimenting.”
Bellegarde developed an interest in music as a teenager. When he was 14, his cousin, Dédy Bellegarde, Haitian keyboardist, who played with Les Ambassadeurs d’Haiti visited his family in Montreal. Dédy shares some rudiments on the drum and the click then appeared! At 18, he encounters the Malian Yaya Diallo (djembe and balafon player) who took him under his wing to play in his group. “Trips to Africa and Brazil to improve myself as well as several beautiful meetings succeed one another,” he says.
“I worked later with the French-Guadeloupe drummer Jean-François Fabiano who offers me to accompany the legendary French Canadian composer Robert Charlebois for three years. From that moment on, I toured and played with Émeline Michel, Beethova Oba, Lilison di Kinara from Guinea Bissau, Paulo Ramos and Bia from Brazil, Tanya Saint-Val from Guadeloupe and Francisco from Martinique.” For one season he played with the house orchestra for Studio TV5 and later, he toured with Cirque du Soleil with Les Chemins Invisibles. One of his fondest memories is his show in Singapore with Yaya Diallo because it enabled him to discover the percussions of Asia (taiko, gamelans, kodo, Manipuri).
When asked, Bellgarde shares that “My musical influences are numerous. By the way of approaching percussion, I think of Mino Cinélu, Azor, Ti Roro, Glen Velez, Paulinho da Costa, Nana Vasconcelos and Airto Moreira showed me the way.”
A graduate of the University of Montreal where he studied sociology, Bellgarde is very involved in education by giving Caribbean percussion workshops to children and adolescents in schools with the Artist program at School of the Ministry of Education of Québec, which is a way he ensures the tradition of this genre of music, by inspiring young artists.