Celebrating Haitian Culture, a huge success!

“There is momentum and excitement when you have a festival with an abundance of events,” says a slightly exhausted Regine Roumain, director of Haiti Cultural Exchange (HCX) that recently wrapped up its six-week 25-event “Selebrasyon!,” a cultural extravaganza celebrating Haitian arts.

“People are already asking–‘will we do it again?’ Yes,” she unhesitatingly retorts, “but it will be a biennial event, alternating with our Haitian Film Festival, held in the spring.”

Still catching her breath from the breadth of Selebrasyon, she adds, “For the next one, we might not have 25 different programs with multiple events on the same day. And, we need more volunteers to help publicize and run it.”

The multi-week feast of Haitian culture that ended last month included musical events, poetry readings and literary discussions, panels from politics to dance, and a hands-on “community-curated” project. People traveled from all the boros and Westchester to attend the Queens panel on Konpa with FanFan of Tabou Combo.

“We explored and connected with new partners, an on-going goal,” said Roumain, enumerating the successes. “Previously, we’ve had events at La Caye Restaurant, directly across from BAM, but the outdoor-yard Haitian food-tasting with their chef who offered off-menu samplings was really special.” The restaurant was also a venue for Zing’s outdoor performance while the street was closed during DanceAfrica.

“Having Boukman Eksperyans perform at Five Myles Gallery – the HCX base– following a discussion with lead singer Manze on her book about becoming a vodou initiate was great!” says Roumain, clearly enthralled. The following day, mother and father, Lolo and Manze, joined son, Paul with his band Zing, performing in the blocked-off street.

One of the highlights was a creative collaboration that brought digital and performance artist Maksaens Denis from Haiti to work outdoors with local dancer Gela Lambert, who performed in Fela, creating a video, much of which was shot at the Bailey Fountain next to the Grand Army Plaza arch.

Music by local composer Didier Sylvain and Maksaens provided the “soundtrack.”

With added computer affects manipulated by Maksaens during the actual screening, dancers Lambert and Haiti-based Loubentz Raphael performed to and with the video projection. Organic form was layered on originality.

Following the amazing multi-dimensional work Roumain beamed and said, “This is why Haiti Cultural Exchange exists, to create new work.”

Turnout for the events varied between a “healthy” attendance and a very full crowd.

DJs Sabine Blaizin and Gardy Girault brought tradition and contemporary music together, spinning current Afrobeat and world fusion–their version of house music, with a mixed-media video projected backdrop for the finale party.

The late night, packed floor, danced into the wee hours. “My last dance lasted all night at the Firehouse in lower Manhattan, the final event,” said Jany Tomba, who loved the positive spin on Haitian culture the entire festival offered.