Pétionville Haiti, Wednesday, Sept. 3rd.
Third World planning. Yesterday I’d lugged the guitar and camera bag into town on the chance that Miguel and I would get to make music, or that Duval would show up, or at least that I could call one of the guys that were at the inauguration day festivities. None of that happened. I stopped by to see Miguel, only to find he was out. I called Duval, who ended up rescheduling. So I ran around town trying to find Mini DV cassettes for the camera (which I finally did, to my half-surprise) and generally spent the time exploring.
Today, I was pretty well done. If the music wasn’t really going to happen, then I decided to give up and head back to Santo Domingo. I rolled up the straw mat and folded the blanket that I’d been using to soften the tile floor in the living room, and headed down into town. I’d stay someplace in town, wake up early, get on the comfy bus that left at 8 a.m., and go.
That didn’t happen either. When I got to the Platform building to check in with Miguel, Wisley and Jean Elie were there with a new guy I didn’t recognize – Duval! He’d asked me to call him in the morning, and I had just now gotten to town and was going to call him – instead, he decided to come over, and was waiting for me without any idea of when I might show up. Third World planning has two sides to it – and now I was finally seeing the other, a stranger willing to wait all morning on the chance that I would arrive, so he could ask why I’d been calling him for three days trying to arrange a meeting.
I explained. Music, I said – I’m doing this project, and I’d love to make music with you. And these guys. Wisly and Jean Elie were from Léogane, a village over an hour away. I didn’t know why they were hanging around, but the coincidence was a happy one. One hot jam session coming up.
It was drizzling, and the Platform building wouldn’t do – they had a gasoline generator going in one room which was hideously noisy. Miguel mentioned that we could maybe ask next door at the church. They were closed. We ended up using a little courtyard area at a neighboring elementary school, complete with random kids running around, and the staff standing around watching us. I set up the camera. The sound equipment on the little camera was pretty self explanatory, and the jam was fun.
Duval was serious musician material – a professional jazz bassist and conductor who played everything possible, and Wisley shredded licks all over my little guitar as the two of them switched from Compas to Reggae through Merengue and back again, pushing the same jam session through several different styles – except Voodoo.“I don’t play Voodoo,” emphasized the church choir director Duval. I played some thunky rhythmic thing and handed the guitar off, Jean Elie and I traded egg shaker and vocal improv duties, and the four of us had a good time.
After packing up, it came out that the two from Léogane were in town to practice for a concert with Barbara (they invited me to join them, but I told them I had to be in Rochester on stage that night) Duval and I promised to stay in touch – he took off, and we all filed back into the platform building. The satanic generator was off by that time, and we jammed for a good hour or so – making up lyrics, creole protest songs, some funny one-four-five ditty about women in politics who have no time to date guys like us – just generally being refreshingly goofy again as I so rarely get to be anymore.
Barbara came in after a while and as it got dark (and I mean dark – almost zero light at all) we sat in a circle and played together as she sang. Big, powerful voice from a powerful woman. Creole. Mixed with French. Contemporary political stuff, some that we all sang on, some ballads she sang by ourselves. Wisley figured out the chords. I hung a Maglite from the lightbulb on the ceiling so we could see each other. Somebody lit a thin white candle.
We all bump-bumped up the hill (I decided to stay after all) and sang some more in Barbara’s living room until she was tired and went to shower and turn in. It had taken me this long to realize that she was somebody I needed to know, so I asked. After we’d finished our peanut butter and bread with hot chocolate, Charlot filled in: “She’s been singing since she was 24. She’s most well known for interpreting French songs in Creole, but when the government shifted in ’84, she spoke out against it – sang out against it. She was imprisoned, beaten, exiled to Montreal, and she’s just now come back.”
Oh. That’s whose house I was staying in. I managed a quick interview by candlelight before she went to bed, and that was that – three hours of footage to edit and lots of ground to cover.