Photo by Marc Vanocur|By Tequila Minsky|Photo courtesy of Haiti Jazz Foundation

When the Jazz Festival of Port-au-Prince hosts foreign jazz musicians to perform in Haiti — the departing musicians leave as good will ambassadors. This year’s jazz musicians are coming from Spain, Belgium, England, France, Switzerland, Chile, Mexico, Trinidad, Canada, and the U.S.

Exposed to appreciative audiences and meeting and jamming with the locals (and those from the other participating countries), the visiting musicians carry back cherished memories that dispel negative stereotypes that might hover.

This week, Brooklyn’s Haiti Cultural Exchange (HCX) is taking a small group of eight to attend this year’s Jazz Festival (and other cultural institutions). “I’m so excited to see the diverse group of musicians that the festival team is bringing,” says HCX director Regine Roumain. “Culture is such a poignant way to bring people together. We’re all really looking forward to it.” The HCX group arrives on the Festival’s first day, Jan. 17.

The festival is produced by the Haiti Jazz Foundation, which has invited the Grammy Award winning Yellow Jackets with their “impressionistic improvisation” to open.

On the schedule from the U.S. is Haitian/American jazz guitarist Chardavoine, a regular on the New York scene. Also, on the program is singer Maya Azucena whose music a mixture between Aretha Franklin and Lauryn Hill.

Local Haitian musicians include saxophonist Thurgot Thodat, guitarist Gerald Kebreau, singer Rutshell Guillaume, guitarist James Bergeau, singer Miu, the singing group Akoustik, Ti Sax, rah rah band Jah. And bringing in music from Vodou side, Boukman Eksperyans (Jan. 22) will also be performing.

The schedule offers daily 6:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. concerts, and afterhours jam sessions. As usual, performing musicians will give music workshops to Haitian musicians and music students, free of charge.

The ticketed portion of the closing night with Trinidadian trumpet player Etienne Charles, and the Laurent de Wilde Power Trio from France will be hosted at the Karibe Hotel.

Festival co-founder musician Joel Widmaier and his wife Milena Sandler with Coralie Deluen organize the eight-day festival in an act of love for the music.
By Tequila Minsky

St. Pierre Park, Petionville’s central plaza that housed hundreds in the aftermath of the earthquake, will be the site for the Festival’s closing acts with Haitian saxophonist Thurgot Theodat and also the Haitian/American favorite Tabou Combo with Jowee Omicil.

Logistics are a constant challenge in Haiti.

The closing night venues reflect changes when the sites that had been planned, the renovated Triomphe Theatre and Champs Mars, Haiti’s Central Park were cancelled. Organizers were told they were “still under construction” forcing last minute changes.

During the Festival, hotels revenues climb–$25,000 for the week and eight nightly afterhours jam sessions pack 200 hungry, thirsty local and performing patrons into the hosting restaurants. A myriad of other activities help keep the Festival running, creating 35 direct jobs. However, this cultural and economic shot in the arm is barely looked at by the business community as economic booster and pubic relations coup it is. Ministries of Culture and Tourism are the participating government partners.

Milena Sandler with her husband, musician Joel Widmaier, a Festival founder, and Coralie Deluen make up the team of three that organize the festival in a true act of love for the music.

The costs to the festival including local Haitian bands are funded via the Haiti Jazz Foundation through private, civic, and government funding. Embassies finance the expenses of their invited bands.

“Forty percent of our budget, promised by the government has been frozen due to the tenuous political situation,” Sandler reports, one week before the festival, while describing the challenges. “The Tourism and Culture Ministers are trying to unlock the funds.”

The 9th International Festival of Jazz of Port-au-Prince runs from Jan. 17 to Jan. 24. There’s still time to buy your ticket and come on down.

On Jan. 23, closing night, Trinidadian trumpet player Etienne Charles plays the Haitian Jazz Festival, as does the Laurent de Wilde Power Trio from France at the Karibe Hotel.
Photo courtesy of Haiti Jazz Foundation