It’s a Wrap for Haiti’s International Jazz Fest, 2013 ~ Written by TEQUILA MINSKY


Branford Marsalis in Port-au-Prince, Haiti (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

From upscale venues with ticketed concerts to free shows at an outdoor cultural center (FOKAL); from uptown Petion-Ville to downtown Port-au-Prince and Jacmel; the 2013 Festival International de Jazz de Port-au-Prince, 7th Edition came, conquered, and went.

Attended by hundreds and supported by eleven foreign embassies that underwrote their musicians, this year’s eight-day festival was accessible to a wide swath of Haitians. Musicians from the embassies’ respective countries gave special invite performances after which came hot, hot, hot “After Hours” jam sessions at various music/restaurant joints.

BelO (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

BelO (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

Four free open-air early-evening concerts were held at FOKAL, each with three groups performing to more than 325 music enthusiasts. The standing-room crowd included many students.  Concerts at Institut Francais and opening night with Bradford Marsalis in Jacmel were free of charge.

Haitian and Haitian-American jazz artists composed a strong element in this year’s Jazz Festival, at times performing alongside participating foreign musicians.  Artists from Brazil, Chile, Spain, Switzerland, France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. were on this year’s roster. Local Haitian groups played many of the After-Hours gigs.

Photo by Tequila Minsky

Renowned singer and bass player Richard Bona with the Afro-Cuban Mandekan Cubano wrapped up the Festival. (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

Diplomats, sponsors, and some local Haitian residents attended the four ticketed, upscale shows.  The Branford Marsalis Quartet, brought by the American Embassy, played one of these concerts and a special VIP-invite show at the Ambassador’s residence.

This year, eight commercial partners, eleven foreign embassies, numerous Haitian and foreign cultural institutions, and the European Union were among supporting partners. The Ministries of Culture and Tourism trimmed some financial support due to the impact of recent Hurricane Sandy.

The After-Hours sites were packed. Haitians and foreigners imbibed Barbancourt and Prestige while listening to jazz musician who created melodic and rhythmic explosions on stage.  Jam sessions continued far into the night.


Axel Laugart — second from right. (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

High-energy Mexican guitarist and current Brooklyn resident, Ilan Bar-Lavi, played the musical genre Son Jarocho with his band, Los Sonox. They jammed with Axel Laugart, a Cuban piano virtuoso, who lives in NYC and is a member of singer Melanie Charles’ band, “The Journey.”  They blew the roof off of the cavernous Garden Studio arts venue, which also has film screening nights.  Even after-hours downpours didn’t halt the show at Quartier Latin.

Music workshops by the Festival’s performing artists have always been a great component of the Festival. The artists performed and demonstrated techniques. Afterwards, they dialogued with Haitian music students in their late teens to twenties, giving them up close and personal contact with the musicians and exposure  to many different types of music within the jazz genre. Many of those attending had learned their music from church, but were not solely embedded in that genre.

Teaching artists would start by playing a couple numbers; then students had the opportunity to ask an unlimited number of questions. Local jazz guitarist Claude Carre translated the words of English-speaking musicians into Kreyòl.

The Sagere Trio—Chilean string players, including a mandolin—explained during their workshop that their music came from a folk tradition in the north of Chile. They answered very specific questions related to technique: “Why do you use your nail and not a pick (a softer sound)?” Answers came in the form of demonstrations of alternate and sweep picking and fielded questions about harmony and arranging.

Louis Winsberg’s workshop included a demonstration of Flamenco dance.

Brooklyn’s own Melanie Charles, who gave her voice workshop in Kreyòl, moved the handful of attending females to the front row. While a keyboard was secured for virtuoso Axel, Melanie spoke about her musical background.

Following the formal presentation that included a couple of voice exercises, students clustered around individual members of Melanie’s band who demonstrated their techniques. Drummer Gashford Guillaume loved the eagerness of the students.

The Festival also screened three music related films, among them: Spike Lee’s Mo Better Blues.

The Jazz Festival has come a long way since its first edition in 2007, when the three founders, including drummer and sound engineer Joel Widmeir, physically moved the sound speakers at the downtown Champs Mars venue and were hands-on with stage set-up. Now, a vast team of staff, partners, volunteers, and the invaluable Milena Sandler–married to Widmeir–are instrumental in the Festival’s smooth running, all under the umbrella of Fondation Jazz Haiti.

Cancelled the year of the earthquake, the Festival’s continuation celebrates Haitians’ love of music, healing as much as it entertains.

In another example of the Festival’s broad reach, two Swiss volunteer sound specialists conducted two weeks of technical workshops prior to the Festival for Haitian sound technicians and worked side by side with them doing the Festival’s sound.

Cameroonian bass player Richard Bona  (second from right) and his Cuban group Mandekan Cubano closed the 7th Edition of the Festival International de Jazz de Port-au-Prince.

Cameroonian bass player Richard Bona (second from right) and his Cuban group Mandekan Cubano closed the Festival. (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

Marie-Laurent Jocelyn Lassegue was in the audience on closing night, at the historic Canne a Sucre park. This event featured renowned singer and bass player Cameroonian Richard Bona and the Afro-Cuban band Mandekan Cubano. Haitian-American Melanie Charles and her band also helped close the Festival. The former Minister of Culture and Communication also said: “Before the Festival began, jazz in Haiti was for a small part of the population–the bourgeoisie and intellectuals. Now, thanks to the Festival, more people have the possibility to learn, understand, and appreciate this music. It’s not only now for the musicians but for population in general, especially the free shows.”

Marie-Laurent commented on how the Festival continues to be better organized and that there are more local sponsors on-board, not just international organizations.

Melanie Charles (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

Melanie Charles (Photo by Tequila Minsky)

“It’s a success!” said the former minister, acknowledging the immense undertaking it is to put the Festival together. She added, “It takes one year to prepare it! After a short break, they’ll start to prepare for next year.”



Black History Month: The Little Rock Nine, Wayétu Moore, and Fabiola

It was supposed to the beginning of a new school year–a season charged with expectation and optimism, not a time to be caught in other people’s petty, stale, yet violent wars.

The year was 1957. Teachers, good and refreshed, had prepared thoughtful and engaging lessons. Governor Orval Eugene Faubus–hellbent on preventing children of all colors to sit together in the same classroom–had prepared his own lesson so meticulously that it took federal troops to help him modify it.

Uncertain of his own power to defy the Supreme Court ruling that outlawed segregation (Brown v. Board of Education), Governor Faubus summoned the Arkansas National Guard to hold back little Elizabeth. For extra reinforcement, mobs of grown men, women, and their children took aim, firing their sharpest insults and threats.

Elizabeth Ann Eckford - will_counts1_fElizabeth Eckford had wanted only to go to school–like most ‘normal’  high school students.  Holding her books securely against her chest, she took careful steps toward Central High’s front door.

Bullies disguised as everyday white-folk had gathered to teach Elizabeth their own rigorous lesson.  Their objective: Student will be so completely traumatized and terrorized that she will run/walk/stumble as far away from Central High and everyone’s sight as swiftly as possible.

The bullies won that September morning.  They pumped their fists and spat as Elizabeth walked back to her bus stop, leaving Little Rock’s Central High School. The girl’s face was set like stone. But like any stone thrown violently into a body of water, Elizabeth Eckford caused concentric circles to form and spread.

When Elizabeth returned to Central High weeks after she was forced to walk away, eight other determined students had joined her. The hate-mobs returned as well, but they were like paper dolls in a hurricane. The winds of change would scatter them; history would be made.

d090457Millions of black students walk into schools today with an opportunity to learn because The Little Rock Nine dared. Elizabeth and her schoolmates were like nine stones hurled into the seemingly infinite ocean of racism, causing concentric circles to spread so far and so wide within the Civil Rights Movement that we see them even today.

This Black History Month, VoicesfromHaiti honors Melba Pattillo Beals, Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Ann Eckford, Ernest Green, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Themlma Mothershed, and Terrence Roberts: The Little Rock Nine who risked their lives for a chance to go to school.

We honor Wayétu Moore. This lady has made it her business to illuminate the mindpath of children from countries with low literacy rates. Moore’s young publishing company, One Moore Book, delivers children’s own stories to them.


Wayetu Moore

Wayétu dedicated the first cycle of books to her beloved father and the children of her native Liberia, saying:  “I will never be able to give my father back the twenty years he spent working to educate us, or the home and life in Liberia he lost. I repay his sacrifice by honoring the education he fought for and offering my art to the world, with stories that make the histories and narratives of my people come alive. . .”

One Moore Book’s current series is dedicated to the children of my beloved Haiti. The six books in the series are written by Maureen Boyer, Edwidge Danticat, Michele Jessica Fievre, Cybille St. Aude, Ibi Zoboi, and Katia D. Ulysse.

Finally, much honor and respect for a little girl named Fabiola who lives thousands of miles away in Toupatou, Haiti. Fabiola does not go to school, not because a stubborn governor has deployed guards to keep her out. Fabiola is a modern-day slave: a rèstavèk. Learn more about rèstavèks in Haiti. Read and share Fabiola’s story. Support One Moore Book’s Haiti Series by buying all six books!

Every child deserves the chance to go to school.

I am ridingI am Riding by Michele Jessica Fievre ~ Illustrated by Jean Patrick Icart-Pierre

The Last Mapou by Edwidge Danticat



The Last Mapou by Edwidge Danticat ~ Illustrated by Eduard Duval Carrie


FabiolacancountFabiola Can Count by Katia D. Ulysse ~ Illustrated by Kula Moore


a is for ayiti

A is for Ayiti by Ibi Zoboi




where is lola


Where is Lola?


Maureen Boyer



How I Become a Baltimore Ravens Fan in the Hospital

My nurse at the hospitalWhen I found myself in the operating room for emergency surgery three weeks ago, I saw a blinding light at the end of a long, narrow tunnel from which deceased relatives beckoned lovingly. Ok. I didn’t see a bright light. There was no tunnel and no dead family members either, but the Baltimore Ravens’ logo was everywhere.

There I was–stretched out on a gurney for the first time in my life. I was scared and in serious medical trouble, but I all heard was: “I can’t believe that guy fumbled the ball!”

My surgeon-to-be wore blue scrubs with his name embroidered above a Baltimore Ravens’ emblem. The bird’s sharp eyes pierced through me, wanting to know: What’s your favorite football team now, hon?

The anesthesiologist’s disposable cap did not conceal the purple and gold Ravens thing underneath. What did I expect? I was in the official hospital for the Baltimore Ravens team. I was in Ravens’ Land.

And this was not the time to mention I wasn’t a fan.

1-in the hospital photoTwo and a half weeks later—the very week of the Super Bowl–I had to be readmitted for complications following the surgery. The nurses and their assistants, the phlebotomists who drew more blood than I knew I had, the room attendants: everyone was a Baltimore Ravens’ fan. They wore birds on their hats, birds on their T-shirts, birds on their scrubs, birds on their lab coats, and birds on their shoes. The purple birds watched me from every corner.

The days blended into one another. The nurses and their assistants shuffled in and out–at all hours, wearing their purple this and that. By Super Bowl Sunday, I was like the woman in Hitchock’s The Birds. The very air had turned purple and black.

“Are you excited about the Super Bowl?” said the person who had come to check my vital signs. “This is the big one. We’re gonna get that trophy tonight. It’s our time. Go Ravens!” She gave a big smile.

I nodded and tried to smile, too. I’d attended my share of Super Bowl parties in the past; the commercials, wardrobe malfunctions, and Half-Time Shows were always fun to watch. I had never dedicated a minute to any specific team; I was not a football person. When Super Bowl Sunday came around, I cheered for the team no one believed would win. And that would be that.

“You want to watch the game?” the Vital-Sign person asked me.


She touched a button on the remote control, and the room came alive with the announcers’ excited voices.

“We got this!” Vital-Sign did a little dance before leaving.

Ten seconds later, I was asleep. When I opened my eyes again, Byonce was on stage. As fantastic as she was, I slid right back into another medicated sleep.

My nurse was in the room now, adjusting the IV drip. My eyes opened a little. Then I heard: “Welcome to the Third Quarter!”

Baltimore Ravens Photo

Baltimore Ravens Photo

Against my will, I focused on the screen to watch with awe how this Ravens guy ran from one end of the field to the next with the football secured in his hand. Never in my life had I seen an athlete run with so much determination. The too-big guys who like to block other players could not touch this runner whose name was Jacoby Jones. This man was lightening in purple.

When the announcer explained that Jacoby Jones had set a new record with his 108 return kick, I understood why Baltimore was bird-wild over the Ravens.

Soon afterwards, there was a blackout in the stadium in New Orleans. I wondered if Byonce’s electrifying performance was to blame. I wanted to watch Jacoby Jones play, but sleep carried me away again.

I woke up to what sounded like fireworks in the distance. The new stranger in the room stood with a trash can in her hand. “I’m here to clean your room,” she said cheerfully. Shaking with excitement, she added: “We won the Super Bowl, hon!”

“Great!” I whispered. “Congratulations!”

Photo from

reuters photo

“I knew we would win,” the lady went on. She set the trash can down without emptying it. “I knew my Ravens would bring that trophy home. If anyone don’t like it, they can put a ring on it.” She giggled. “This is monumental! Mo-nu-men-tal, hon.”

Her joy touched something inside me. I was thrilled for her. It was as if she had been on that field with Jacoby Jones, running with the football under her own arm for a record 108 yards. She picked up the trashcan again and held it as if it were the Lombardi trophy. “Go Ravens!”

I didn’t speak the words, but was thinking the same: Yes, Go Ravens!


Thank you, C., for posing for that picture with your Joe Flacco jersey.