I was thrilled to be invited to return to the beautiful island of Ile A Vache for the second time by Pam and Nat Benjamin, staying aboard their boat, Charlotte. You can see the main island of Haiti in the background of the photos below and Charlotte in the foreground.
This year in addition to traveling with Nat and Pam I was excited to be joined by Rick Bausman, an old friend and fellow musician. We have been playing music together for almost 30 years and share a love for Haitian music in particular. The plan was that we would both teach children at the Kay Kok Community Center and also would connect with a drummer who would be able to teach us some new songs and rhythms to play with our drummer friends at home. Rick and I had both visited Ile A Vache before but hadn't really had an opportunity to meet up with any drummers. We certainly were able to this time around, thanks to our guide and friend on Ile A Vache, Samy Altema.
Rick and I both worked with kids in the afternoons at the community center.
I taught simple songs from around the world that I have learned over the years.
Rick shared drum rhythms.
Pam taught a class on drawing and perspective
The kids were all wonderfully enthusiastic. At the end of our stay there was a performance and an art show.
Rick played drums with his gang.
This is a praise song in Kiswahili from Kenya that I learned from the girls at Daraja Academy and have now taught all over the world.
The time we spent at the community center with kids was great but what really made our trip unforgettable was working with master drummer Dou Dou in his family enclave in the hills above the town of Madame Bernard. Rick and I have learned about the traditional music of Haiti over many years, but always in a second hand kind of way - from an American who learned from a Haitian now living in the U.S. To experience learning directly from a master drummer in Haiti was truly remarkable. Dou Dou shared much that was new to us and we were able to confirm that the rhythms and songs we have played and sung for years were indeed part of the tradition. We spent four mornings learning new material and spent an incredible additional day witnessing and participating in a traditional Vodou ceremony. Dou Dou and his family shared their spiritual traditions with us with such generosity and warmth. I believe they were quite astonished and delighted to find that we knew as much as we did and to see that we clearly have deep respect and interest in their traditions. I felt such a connection with this group of people, a connection which was communicated purely through the music since we didn't speak Creole and they didn't speak English. It was a profound experience and confirmed for me, again, that music is a powerful connecting force that is beyond words.
A rare moment when I played the bell. Mostly I listened to the singing and drum parts and recorded them so that we could recreate them when we got home. Rick played whatever drum was handed to him and Dou Dou showed him the rhythms to play. The other drummers and singers are all part of Dou Dou's extended family.
Dou Dou and ensemble singing a song a cappella first so I could record and learn it more easily. The drum parts were added in after the song was repeated several times.
Dou Dou and his son
A small, irresistible drummer!
This kid is clearly born to drum!
This lovely woman made a special effort to make me feel welcome and to teach me songs
Preparing for the ceremony
The music continued for hours
Dou Dou dancing during the ceremony
Dancing with Dou Dou!
Rick played the lead drum with the enthusiastic support of Dou Dou at the end of the ceremony
Words are unnecessary...