Having a great time was the mood at Haiti Cultural Exchange’s recent year-end party that turned its home base Five Myles Gallery into a “Speak Easy.”
Several dazzling gals, decked out as flappers in beads and feather boas sauntered as well as a few fellas dressed in roaring twenties attire.
“We called it ‘Le Lambi,’” said HCX director Regine Roumain, “after the famed Haitian nightclub (near the Mariani section of Port-au-Prince), which decades back was jumping with big bands.
Buyu Ambroise and The Blues in Red band, usually known for Haitian jazz standards, played big band and jazz numbers. Vocalist Pauline Jean — looking marvelous — transported everyone back to that other era. And the crowd responded, kicking up their heels, swing dancing and all to Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean A Thing” and also W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” and Sippie Wallace’s “Women Be Wise.”
Ambroise spontaneously played “Nirvana,” the signature song from a Haitian Carnival band of his youth in Haiti. He remembers, “The band on their respective float, dressed in satin pink and black attire, played a very popular up-tempo song with lyrics that described the unusually large anatomical size of women’s buttocks. When played, it brought a frenzied spirited emotion as people danced and sang.” His band along with Jean reproduced the trance-like music for those on the dance floor.
Jean also sang Haitian traditional songs Yo Yo and Wongolo.
“The crowd was so engaged and receptive of our performance — we laughed, danced and sang together,” commented Jean.
“Performing Haitian songs and Jazz standards of the 1920s, 30s and 40s for such an enthusiastic crowd was an absolute joy.” The cross pollination of music styles and Haitian community made for an incredible time.
For HCX director Roumain, it was another highlight in the continuing HCX programming. Looking back at the year, she recalls, “We had the third biennial Haitian film festival. Thanks to funds from Jumaane Williams’ office, we expanded our “little artists” program to P.S. 361, with 10 weeks of dance, songs, and storytelling.”
“This is the first year we had a theme: Revolution,” she said, of the programming that included an An’n Pale (artist salon) with professor, performer and writer Gina Ulysse, a one-week artist residency with Allenby Augustin from Haiti culminating in an afternoon of street rara and storytelling with Schneider Laurent, Michele Marcelin and Goussy Celesin at the Brooklyn Public Library.
What’s coming up? Roumain says, “We’re having a dance performance featuring Veroneque F. Ignace on Friday, Jan. 29, 6–9 pm, at Five Myles Gallery followed by a discussion, an An’n Pale.
Feb. 7, the auspicious date when Baby Doc and his entourage left Haiti, will also mark end of this HCX programming year.
On Sunday, Feb. 7, 2–8 pm at Shapeshifter Lab, the Revolisyon / Revolution Season finale will feature a screening of Jonathan Demme’s “The Agronomist.”
This is a great opportunity to see the acclaimed biographical film about Jean Dominique. Born to a bourgeois family, Dominique became an outspoken radio journalist who broadcast in Haitian Creole, denounced abuse of political power, and was shot and killed outside of his radio station, Radio Haïti, on April 3, 2000, at the age of 69.
Also on the Sunday program will be staged readings by Haitian Diaspora artists from the Edwidge Danticat’s book “Create Dangerously: The Immigrant Artist at Work. “
Looking further forward, next season’s theme is: Liberté, liberty.