Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Rara Band’s Search For Home Pt. 1

A Rara band’s search for home, a filmmaker’s search for archival footage
Jeremy Robins, along with Magali Damas, have created an amazing documentary, The Other Side Of The Water, following a group of young immigrants who take an ancient music from the hills of Haiti and reinvent it on the streets of Brooklyn.  Alan Lomax's recordings of the Rara Bands he came upon during his trip in Haiti will be found on Vol. 4 in the upcoming Box Set with film footage as well.  Robins has been kind enough to contribute to our blog (go HERE to see the trailer to his Documentary)...

"I first heard that Alan Lomax’s had shot film in Haiti in the 30’s back in 2005, while I was in the middle of quest to find every scrap of archival footage of the style of Haitian processional music called “rara”.
Along with my co-producer Magali Damas, I was creating the documentary titled “The Other Side of the Water” about the 20-year journey of a rara band in Brooklyn NY.  The project was an attempt to tell the story of the enormous but often hidden Haitian community of Brooklyn, and more broadly to explore of one of those amazing New York subcultures; how it survives, evolves, and relates to its home culture.
One of the biggest challenges in making a film about rara music in America was trying to answer the basic question “What is Rara?”  A percussionist in Prospect Park described it as a walking vodou ceremony; a scholar friend defined it as subtle
 and intelligently coded political and social commentary utilized by Haiti’s disenfranchised poor; the mother of the band’s drummer described rara as a vulgar, drunken, musical mob.
  (My favorite answer is that it’s all of the above, all at once.)  
If we were going to try to establish a working definition of such a complex and contradictory ritual, we would need a lot of strong archival clips.
For our current day footage (over 300 hours of MiniDV and DVCPro tapes), we filmed roughly a year in the life of the rara-band-in-exile, following characters through basement vodou temples, underground economies, and the ground-shaking processions through darkness of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.  
We also found troves of home-movies shot by the band’s fans since its founding in 1990.  This stack of beat-up VHS and Hi-8 tapes traced the band’s jubilant creation one afternoon after Aristide’s first election, through the
politicization of the band during the “Haitian-American Civil Rights Movement”, through the band’s own internal coup – when young hip-hop inspired musicians arrived from Haiti with a vastly different conception of the music. In each stage, hundreds of years of history, stigma, politics and identity are battled out in the haunting sounds of tin kone horns and bamboo vaksins.  
But there was still the problem of defining rara - and more specifically finding footage that could bring its origins to life ......."

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Vodou Ceremony Pt. 2

A Vodou Ceremony Pt. 2

Possession by the Loi

...then a violent and frenzied dance begins — the hips and shoulders shaking, wiggling, shivering, and vibrating in a fashion impossible for a person in a normal physical state. Later Gran Erzulie enters into the body of a young girl who had seemed before to be made out of sections of willow branches; a completely soft young adolescent face over a body so pliant and fine that it could not stand straight but let every bone take its own separate angle, the whole body akimbo. 

Now this pliant body grew suddenly old, the legs were bent and bowed inward with rheumatism and the belly was sucked up with pain and fatigue under the withered breast. A continual low murmur of groans and whines came from the twisted lips as the other dancers jostled her.

Then the drummer, Ciceron [Marseille], whom I believe carries all the loi in his thin, old hunched shoulders that make the mama drum growl and roar, called to the loi to dance, and Simbi and Gran Erzulie seemed to be shaking themselves to pieces, the first in his male and the second in her old female fashion. This dance went on growing more and more violent until the mamaloi called for a mason, which is the signal for the departure of spirits. At the end of this dance, both Simbi and Gran Erzulie swooned separately on the floor in each others’ arms, those two young bodies curved against one another in a sort of trance of exhaustion. All this time, of course, there had been other loi in the women present, but the loi themselves, the inspired women, had given place way and precedence to the two I have described. Presently, as the singing recommenced, the body that had held Simbi dragged itself off into a corner and went to sleep with its head in its arms The habitation of Gran Erzulie, however, only leaned against the wall for a few moments and soon was back in the dance again.