Monday, November 9, 2009


The lives of most children in Haiti, especially those from the poorest classes, were not easy in the 1930s (nor are they now). With one of the hemisphere’s highest rates of maternal and infant mortality, as well as rampant childhood disease, the passage to adulthood in Haiti is fraught with danger. In the 1930s, yaws, a syphilitic disease of the skin, ravaged the country, and the scarcity of clean drinking water resulted in a variety of water-borne illnesses. Schooling, if it could be secured and paid for, was often cut short by the need to work. And because families of limited means often lived in small, cramped quarters, children grew up without much innocence concerning adult sexuality. Among the poorest of the poor, families that felt they couldn’t care
for one or more children often arranged with a wealthier relative or even a stranger to “adopt” the child as an unpaid household laborer, called a rèstavèk (from the French rester avec, to stay with). Although children in Haiti have always been dearly cherished, parenting regimens tended to be very strict, often employing repercussions as severe as corporal punishment (the use of
a cat-o’-nine-tails, called matinèt or rigwaz in Kreyòl, was common). These harsh realities of childhood resulted in the frank tone of many Haitian children’s songs, and yet there is also much joy in these songs, offering a glimpse into a world of play and creativity that is usually hidden from adult eyes.

These recordings explore the contradictory spaces of childhood: Boy Scout songs, gentle lullabies, fear-tinged songs of lougawou-s (werewolves) and child-eating witches, counting songs for instruction, game songs for passing rocks and splashing in water, round songs for circle dances, and songs that veer from the innocent and childlike to trespass on adult themes or betray an unfortunate familiarity with hardship.

Please enjoy the music from Volume 5 - Children's Songs

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


Volume 4

Four majors marched together at the head of the band. Thomar danced along, crouching, yellow shirt, calling the band over his shoulder, the president at his side. The two coronels with their whips behind the four majors, their batons flashing in the sun. Behind them the vaxines, and behind them the mob, singing and dancing. Clouds of dust rising up from beneath their feet.
—Alan Lomax, field notes

Of the many elements of Haitian expressive culture, rara may be among the most difficult to describe and explain succinctly. Whereas the service of the saints (also known as Vodou) in Haiti is generally pursued in the home and in the ounfò (temple), in rara it is brought out into the public spaces of the streets, crossroads, and cemeteries. Taken on as a sacred promise to a lwa (god) or group of lwa, a rara band (bann rara) will be organized by a head (mèt or master, or perhaps a president) for a certain number of years: seven is typical, although many rara bands become permanent fixtures in their regions. The band is modeled on military and courtly or governmental hierarchies and engages in ceremonies to consecrate the band, rehearsals to develop its music, and then weekends of preparatory perambulations before embarking on an exhausting string of marches during the days leading up to Easter Sunday or Monday. Although its celebratory atmosphere and often ribald lyrics may not suggest a sacred purpose, the event is both sacred and profane.

Rara may have started during the colonial period as a French celebration called Carnaval Carême (Easter Carnaval), a week of celebration to end Lent and to lead into Easter; the practice of playing for patrons en route may be a holdover from the plantation-era practice of playing for colonial masters. Indeed, an early alternative name for rara, lwalwadi, may be a corruption of
“la loi di”, meaning “the law allows,” referring to the permission in the Code Noir of Napoleon for slave celebrations of this nature.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NOTES FROM A RADA CEREMONY (from Alan's Journal)

It is Nov. 1st...and the monolithic ALAN LOMAX IN HAITI boxset is almost here (Nov. 17th).  One of the components of the boxset is a transcription of Alan's Haitian journal edited (with wonderful notes) by Alan's niece Ellen Harold.  The following is a page from his actual journal which features his notes on a  Rada ceremony at Kay Moïse (Moise’s House), in which Alan describes the movement around the peristile by the devotees, with the gestures made.  Alan also includes some ritual diagrams of the three Rada drums (boula, segon, and manman), as they might appear on a vèvè.  All of this is described in detail in the liner notes of the boxset....