Tag Archives: Haitian music

Morgan Zwerlein’s Rhythm

Feast or famine. Drought or deluge. Peace or pandemonium. We are still standing.

Within the sliver of space where the swinging pendulum pauses, the persistent drum-song of Manman Ayiti reverberates. In the centuries since our ancestors were brought to the island, the rhythms of our roots have not weakened. Through sweet and sorrowful times, this endowment sustains us.  Musicians worldwide benefit from  our lavish legacy. Some give credit where it is due; others play dumb. Their instruments may be shiny and new, but the rhythms that come out are distinctly Haitian. African. Morgan Zwerlein revels in this fact.

Music was our language, when our mouths could not speak what our eyes were forced to see.  Like secret codes, drum beats conveyed our messages. When uttering a word would have cost us our tongues, we communicated openly through music. Slave owners feared the African people’s drum so much that they outlawed the instrument, lest it triggered a revolt.

The esoteric rhythms keep us connected even now.  Drop a Rabòday or a Kongo beat, and stiffs in business suits start to undulate. The reaction is visceral. The drums call. Bodies and souls respond.

Morgan Zwerlein has learned the language of the drums, and speaks it very well. The instant I connected his face to his powerful sound, I was stunned. How on Earth did a blan learn to play like that? Cultural appropriation is one thing, but it’s different with this guy. I had to ask. What exactly are your intentions with these here rhythms? 

Morgan Zwerlein’s photo

The first answer came in 2014—on Haitian soil. I watched and listened as Morgan beat the drum on and off stage. He jumped in the middle of a Rara band in Puits Blain, and played as fiercely as my compatriots. I’ve seen Morgan perform in Brooklyn several times since. He plays like a happy kid in his favorite toy store, smiling like he’d just swallowed something sweet.  I had more questions. He answered them. Click here for the INNERview.


Call of the Drum Spirit is TONIGHT

Happy Frisner. Photo by Chantal Regnault, early 1980s, Brooklyn

Happy Frisner. Photo by Chantal Regnault, early 1980s, Brooklyn

Tomorrow is not promised, so hurry up and find something ‘health-giving’ that you can love enough to stay awake past the world’s bedtime.

People are too busy with their own issues to care if your shoes don’t match your handbag. So, skip the shoes and the baggage.  Bring your troubles to the drums and dance like you’re Jean Léon Destiné and Prince combined.

Organized chaos is the new calm, so sing like you’re Adele Addison, Riva Precil, Pauline Jean, Tiga, and Paul Beaubrun all rolled into one.

Master Drummer, Catelus "Ti Tonton" Laguerre. Photo credit: Kesler Pierre

Master Drummer, Catelus “Ti Tonton” Laguerre. Photo credit: Kesler Pierre

If for ten thousand reasons you find that you must cry, do it with all the joy you can fake.

And if by some necessary coincidence you should find yourself in Brooklyn, NY, tonight, run to Roulette.  Lose all preconceived notions about Haiti and Haitian Drum Music.

Ditch that inhibition. Overindulge in rhythm. Tonight’s celebration features the BONGA and TIGA. Father and Son musical geniuses.

Photo credit: Tequila Minsky

Photo credit: Tequila Minsky

Two years ago I found myself at the First Annual Call of the Drum Spirit by accident. I can still feel that night’s vibrations. If you can make it to Roulette tonight, consider yourself among the fortunate.

When Master Drummer Frisner Augustin passed away in 2012, he left a palpable void in the community. Patrick LaFrance, one of the founding members of the Gran Chimen cultural center in Brooklyn, remembers the legend as a humble man with an enormous sense of humor.

Photo by Lois Wilcken, asotò drum image from Alfred Métraux, design by Kesler Pierre,

Photo by Lois Wilcken, asotò drum image from Alfred Métraux, design by Kesler Pierre,

“He played from his soul,” Patrick said. “Frisner would share his knowledge with anyone who wanted to learn the drum.  Sunday afternoons , you know, in Brooklyn, can be tough. With Monday morning’s realities coming,  you need a distraction. Frisner would show up at the center, and it was like medicine. We waited all week just to hear him play and teach us a few things. Frisner brought the Lakou to Brooklyn.  Sundays were good with Frisner around.”

Well, thanks to Lois Wilkens and a fierce ensemble of drummers, this Saturday night may be the best Sunday afternoon yet.

voicesfromhaiti photo

voicesfromhaiti photo









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A Festival to Remember

frog in aquinI’m a wannabe athlete who loves to run. I’ve earned bragging rights for finishing several half- and full marathons, among them two Marine Corps. When I run, I compete only against my shadow–nobody else’s. I aim to do better than I did in previous races; the end. I don’t get an itch, when other runners leave me behind. As long as I finish—however long it takes me to finish—I win. Big.

katia MCMSome people can hold deep conversations with their buddies while running; I’m not that skilled. When I get out there, the only voice that won’t bug me belongs to Eddy François, the lead singer of Boucan Guinen. He has resided inside my modern-day boombox for years. Boucan Guinen’s Pale Pale  CD pulls me through every finish line.  People laugh and tease me, saying: “You’re still listening to those same four songs?” I don’t answer anymore. They don’t get it.

I saw Boucan Guinen perform in Brooklyn years ago. It was there that I experienced pioneer racine band,  Boukman Eksperyans, for the first and only time. I fantasized about meeting those musicians someday. Someday never came, but Boucan Guinen continued to pull me through more finish lines.

Paul onstageBoukman Eksperyans’s lead’s singer’s son, Paul Beaubrun, now has a band of his own: Zing Experience.

Zing’s message of togetherness by any means continues to gain massive popularity internationally. Paul is a dynamic performer and one of the sweetest people I’ve met. Check out our VoicefromHaiti INNERview.




Destination Aquin

Two weeks ago, when a friend told me about the festival in Aquin, Haïti, I was intrigued. When I heard that Boukman Eksperyans, Zing, and Boucan Guinen would be there together, I ran a minute-mile to the airport.

100_9590When I reached Haïti and learned that rehearsals would take place at Boukman’s place, I fainted. The first person I saw there was Zing’s first lady, Cynthia C. Beaubrun.

On a front porch not far too away, Zing rehearsed. Everyone was so pleasant. So normal. . .

on hte porch with zingZing continued to rehearse, perfecting their sound.  When rehearsal turned into a laissez-faire jam session, I threw a song; the musicians didn’t let it fall. They played. I sang. We jammed and laughed and jammed some more.

trip to aquinWhen the bus to Aquin arrived the next morning,  I was in shock. Seriously. Guess who was there!

For three and half hours, I rode to Aquin with several of Haïti’s most talented Racine musicians. A dream bigger than the one I dared dream came true.

100_9665Paul Beaubrun and Eddy François sat front and center, laughing and conducting the mayhem. Eddy’s better half and Boucan Guinen singer, Manina François, stayed graceful amid the raucous banter.

Percussionist, Yatande Boko,  kept everyone entertained with his mischievous antics. Bass player, Chico Boyer, sat by a window, looking ever so pensive. Jimmy Daniel drummed on the back of the seat in front of him. Paul’s queen, Cynthia Beaubrun, was serene and composed. I managed to sit still,  even if I was in Racine Heaven.

100_9726We reached the hotel just in time for everyone to get ready for the show.

There was a whole lot of fun going on, but these guys are actually hard-working professionals who happen to love their job so much that it looks like they’re playing. The musicians poured their souls into each number. The crowd cheered.  Zing’s set ended too soon. Boukman was next.

LOLO on stageBoukman Eksperyans was perfection personified. The dancers moved parts of their bodies I didn’t even know existed. Manzè Beaubrun gave the crowd all she had and plenty more.

Boucan was supposed to play immediately after Boukman Eksperyans, but Rain had a different plan. Everyone hurried to the bus.  “I love music, but I’m not ready to be electrocuted for it,” one musician whispered.

It was now 3:00 in the morning. Many of the guys had fallen asleep. It looked as if Boucan Guinen would not perform. But the crowd was relentless.

100_9939Boucan Guinen had to go onstage.  I went with them, naturally. Yatande Boko and Jimmy Daniel blew me away; those drums were like thunder.

The crowd loved Manina, and behaved as if they’d known her for a long time.

When the night sky started to shed tears once again, the musicians’ faces registered fear. Rather than end the show, Paul Beaubrun and his dad joined Boucan Guinen on stage for the ultimate jam session.

100_9980I put my camera down, and bounced. I owed myself a dance, and it was payday.

Boucan might have finished last in the festival, but the people of Aquin won big.  (I did, too.)100_9965

AZOR: A National Treasure. . .Gone Too Soon

Less than a month after his 46th birthday, Lénord Fortuné of Racine Mapou de Azor went the way of the ancestors. Our sincere condolences to his family, his friends, and the wide audience that will always treasure the man and the genius he so willingly gave.

News of his passing shook the ocean floor, sending tremors throughout the known world.  Haitians and fans of Rasin Mizik mourn the transition of this Voice.  Life may be ephemeral, but the art Azor produced is everlasting.

Haiti has lost another national treasure. Nou pèdi yon kokenn trezò. The roots of this Mapou run deep in the ground, however.  In good or bad weather, they must sprout again.  Somehow.

Rest in peace.

Kreyòl Pale