Synopsis of my work in Haitian music

(What is Natif?) click here

Music as entertainment has become the privilege of those whose physical, mental and spiritual emancipation is all but assured. Third World musicians are thus of two kinds: the one whose music induces torpor and forgetfulness as a way to cope with the people’s dire living conditions. The other continuously sharpens his/her art, just as a warrior aware of the urgency of this threefold struggle refuses to let the rust of escapism obscure the brilliancy of his weapon.

My choice as a musician has been quite clear. I have spent countless hours over more than twenty years hearing the sounds of my roots, feeling, inspiring and playing our music as if each one of my brothers and sisters of the Haitian peasantry has become my muse. As I attempt to convey – to the best of my abilities – what I hear, I have found myself in the company of the keepers of the Haitian collective soul: the other sanba, the simido, the hounsi, the twoubadou and the siwèl.

After much soul searching, I have come to realize that only one word can sum up the essence of my musical odyssey: Natif. Indeed Natif epitomizes the beginning and end of the circular journey I have undertaken in my musical career. Born in the heart of the Haitian peasantry, my earliest exposure was however to the music of Gilbert Bécaud and other French artists that monopolized the Haitian airwaves. The influence of Brazilian music in “Bossa Valentine”, the song that brought me the first prize at the First Haitian National Contest for Valentine’s Day shows some of the similarities between Brazilian and Haitian music, specifically that the northern part of both Brazil and Haiti.

Furthermore, the use of an electronic drum kit, as well of synthetizers showed our profound desire to introduce new sounds in Haitian Roots music when we released the first album of Sakad in 1986. Our trip to Haiti in 1990 reinforced our intention to place a much greater emphasis on our traditional beats. For the next four years, Gifrants, Sanba Daki, my next sextet, with a very upbeat repertoire of Voodoo Jazz, would be perform-ing in some of the most famous Clubs such as SOB’s and Nell’s, featuring World Music in New York.

From playing soft voodoo Jazz with the release of Serenade by Gifrants, and Haitian folk music and Creole Jazz with Twoubadou Sèk, we put the emphasis back on chords and progressions still looking for a new conceptualization of a modern Haitian music. This goal was finally reached with the release of the Vwa e Gita Series where both phrases and movement of the vaksin as well as the percussive aspect of Haitian music were reproduced on the guitar.

Among the endemic elements of Natif music is the omission of the 3rd degree of a chord; the addition of a sharp 9 to a major chord; the coexistence of both the fifth and its flat within a chord, the use of inversions and substitutions using different notes from the root, the 3rd or the 5th on bass. Suffice to say that Natif music answers to a novel harmonic conceptualization.

It is important to note that the vaksin which does not obey the traditional tuning scheme of Western music, actually provides the underpinning of the Natif concept. For example, a bass line may appear dissonant in regards to the other instruments, while its movement provides the gravitational pull around which those other instruments orbit. These conceptualizations have been essential in keeping with the intensity, tension, and most of all the mysterious and ethereal mood of our music.

Such a concretization added to a keen loyalty in regards to intonations and vocalization, constitute the authenticity and fundamentals of Natif music. Indeed, Natif is both the synthesis and the synopsis of our work. As life always offers new beginnings, this new window opens a world of tremendous possibilities for exploration and experimentation.

**This text has been edited by Max Lyncee.

Comments are closed.