Meet Dr. Marie-José Nzengou-Tayo

Here is part 4 of our INNERviews with scholars who contributed to Meridian‘s Pawòl Fanm Sou Douz Janvye, edited by Dr. Gina A. Ulysse. Other contributors include: photographer Regine “Gigi” Romain, writer Katia D. Ulysse, professors Nadeve Menard, Myriam Chancy, and Mark Schuller.

Marie-José Nzengou-Tayo is a Senior Lecturer in French at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus and a former head of the Department of Modern Languages & Literatures (2005-2011).  Her area of specialization is the literature and culture of the French-speaking Caribbean: Haiti, Martinique, and Guadeloupe.

In 2004, she was awarded the distinction of Palmes académiques, at the rank of Chevalier. She is a past president of the Haitian Studies Association (2005-2006).  Her most recent publications are: “From Negritude to Créolité: Francophone Influence in Caribbean Literatures. Anja Bandau and Marta Zapata Galindo. El Caribe y sus Diásporas: Cartografías de saberes y prácticas culturales.  Madrid: Editorial Verbum, 2011: 200-216. “Un pacte avec le Diable: l’écrivain haïtien et la malédiction du pouvoir dans le roman de Gary Victor, Je sais quand Dieu vient se promener dans mon Jardin.” In Nadève Ménard’s «Écrits d’Haïti, perspectives sur la littérature haïtienne contemporaine (1986-2006).  Paris : Karthala, 2011: 445-459

Read the INNERview: Fleeting Images


AYITI Face to Face: Tequila Minsky writes for CaribbeanLifeNews (reprint)

Photo by Tequila Minsky

The first of three Ayiti Fasafas (Haiti Face to Face) concerts, celebrating Haitian traditional singing, drumming and dance was presented in a “Rasanble: Come Together” in Brooklyn recently.

The next will be Friday, June 22, 7:00 p.m., with “Rele Ounto: Remembering the Life and Legacy of Frisner Austin,” the master drummer, teacher and transmitter of traditional Haitian culture, who passed away suddenly in Haiti on Feb. 28. This celebration of his life will be held at Roulette, 509 Atlantic Ave. and will be in collaboration with La Troupe Makandal, the performance company Frisner directed.

The Sunday “Rasanble” event started with a music video shot in Haiti by Kongo. And then, this program brought together a wide sampling of local traditional singers including Marie Veronique Antoine, Wozna – invited from the audience, Madafi Pierre and singer/dancer Erol Josue. Sarah Dupuy, sang a Capella, mixing in some jazz, and then, playing guitar, was joined with a friend contributing hip-hop.

Arranger and performer Monvelyno Alexis, jazz singer Pauline Jean, and multi-talented Goussy Celestin stamped their approach to the traditional. This was followed by the next generation, Riva Precil playing the guitar and singing both a traditional and then an original number. Ernst Severe’s group of three Gran Chimen rounded out the styles presented.

Photo by Tequila MInsky

While the songs were predominately traditional, the afternoon’s music mixed in contemporary genres, revealing how the traditional can thrive alongside the current–each embellishing the other.

The singers were backed by an array of percussion talent under the direction of Jean-Mary Brignol, who plays jazz, rara, and Vodou drumming styles. Along with Evens “Zilibo” Seney and Fritz “Fito” Vivien, Edmonde “Guysot” Fortere, an elder drummer in the community, one of the first musicians to sing and record traditional music and who focuses solely on Vodou styles, performed. Mateo Chao, an active member of Fasafas, played the bell.

For over a year, members of the Haitian cultural community have been meeting with the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, a local organization working in partnership with ethnic and immigrant communities to preserve and nurture traditional performing arts. The Haitian Community Initiative of performers and cultural activists are striving to bring traditional Haitian music and dance to a wider audience. Through programs such as this series, they aim to fight negative cultural stereotypes and preserve cultural knowledge of Vodou.

The National Endowment of the Arts is the lead funder among many agencies to this initiative. One of the founding members, ethnomusicologist Lois Wilcken said that Sunday’s concert acted as a bridge, bringing together performers from different perspectives within the artistic community.

The third concert in the Fasafas series is “Rasin Ginen: The African Roots,” July 14, 7:30 p.m., presented with and held at El Museo del Barrio, in conjunction with their Caribbean: Crossroads of the World exhibition. Focusing more on dance, pioneer and master dancer Jean Leon Destine, trained in ballet and modern, who brought traditional dance to the stage, will be honored.

Photo by Tequila Minsky

At the June 22 “Frisner Augustin” Ayiti Fasafas, a dozen different dance and drumming groups will pay tribute to the master. The free event will also have a short video, an exhibit of memorabilia displaying his awards, recordings, Vodou objects, and some of his very decorative performance shirts. The evening, co-presented with Haiti Cultural Exchange (HCX), will also hold a reception.

Haiti Cultural Exchange also has a three-part Mizik Ayiti (Haiti Music) music series coming up. Zing Experience, fusing Haitian roots, reggae and rock, creating a soulful sound, will perform on June 21 at a free outdoor performance at Putnam Triangle Plaza (Fulton & Grand). This event is also part of MoCADA’s June Soul of Brooklyn schedule. Zing band is led by Paul Beaubrun, youngest son of lead singers and founders of Boukman Eksperyans and often performs with them when they’re in town.

Later this summer, HCX’s Mizik Ayiti will showcase Belo & Obed Jean-Louis at Shape Shifter Lab on July 19 and La Troupe Makandal and Vo-dou on Aug.t 25, at Five Myles Gallery.

This article, written by Tequila Minsky. first appeared in The Caribbean Life. Reprinted here with permission from the author.




Nadève Ménard

Nadève Ménard was born in Brooklyn, NY. Her family moved to Haiti in 1987, when she was 11 years old. She went to high school in Haiti, then left to attend college in Baltimore and grad school in Philadelphia. She has lived briefly in Paris and Trinidad, but Haiti has been home now for a long time. 

Since 2000, Nadève has taught at Ecole Normale Supérieure. VoicesfromHaiti celebrates the creative spirit of this fierce educator. Check out our INNERview.

Nadève’s work appears currently in Meridian’s Pawòl Fanm Sou Douz Janvye, edited by Gina. A. Ulysse. Other contributors include: Mark SchullerRegine RomainKatia D. UlysseMyriam J. A. Chancy, Lenelle Moïse, Marie-José N’zengou-Tayo, and many more.




Jany Tomba: “Rambling on Water”

I love water. I find solace in it, but I have a healthy fear of its power to house our ancestors.

I happen to have been born and raised in Haiti, a country with double of everything: language, religion, class, and economy; everything mirrors something else, although not always in a graphic repetition. It would be like looking at myself on still waters; then suddenly the slightest movement changes the perception.  Is it still me?

When I was asked to write about my pictures, I had no idea where to begin. But when I examined a photo or two, I saw that unconsciously there was a common thread—a golden thread.

I realized that the photo of me coming out of the water with a lovely hibiscus in my hair could have been inspired by a Lasirèn celebration. The boat in my hand is a symbol of Agwe, protector of sea merchants, fishermen, and other water affairs. 

My observation was totally unconscious, putting the image in the right cultural context…but who is to say there are coincidences? So, I asked myself:

What is the thing that united me, my culture, and the whimsical world of fashion? What is it that divided me from myself and the world I lived in?  We all reside in the same space: this earth, but what about our spirits and those of our ancestors?

Photo: Tequlla Minsky

Oh, I don’t have practical experience in Vodou, so as not to be misleading. I don’t have the direct family legacy of serving, but I do have the acceptance of our culture as a whole–this I was taught: Respect and love others and, most of all, appreciate the rich mysterious culture we inherited.

I was born and raised Catholic. I was raised to appreciate the religion of others. I was taught to respect and be fearless of the differences that exist. Through art and exposure to other ideas, I came to embrace the richness [and plurality] of my culture.

Back to Lasirèn, Agwe, and the world of fashion:

My family exposed us to the simple beauty of pilgrimage to Saut d’Eau at Ville Bonheur, a sacred location. I remember we were part of the other group–the Catholic group who, side by side with Vodun worshipers, bathed in that beautiful, cold waterfall.

For me, visiting Saut d’Eau was an adventure. I recall the anticipation. I recall the slippery rocks under my feet. I was a child, yet the spiritual element and the idea of being with so many family members filled me with a deep sense of security. We ate salmon, rice, beans, and salad Russe. We drank cola and ate cake that an aunt had made. How and why do I, to this day, recall the menu?

As far as style is concerned, I am in love with the aesthetic of peasant life. I like the exuberance and simplicity of the Vodun style, the layering, the colors, and the textures. I incorporate it in my décor, my art, and my personal fashion.

Being authentic is a way of life for me. Seeking understanding of the untouchable  is real and is of utmost importance to me.

Our culture must not remain a doormat to the outside world. The meaning of it all [the photographs] takes on a new direction when I look back. We can develop a language by applying our innate knowledge of our ancestry to the outside world–a voice that can be understood (or not) and accepted eventually.