Lesson 2: Life in Haiti Is Music
There is a rare stillness as I walk out of my room to greet the morning. I make my tea and step out on the front porch into soft light climbing down through the palm leaves, hearing that soft jungle music and roosters crowing. One of the boys is doing his chores, mopping the floor. He is dancing to music that I can’t hear. But I imagine it’s very upbeat…and his dance looks somewhat meringue-like. He notices me, smiles, says “bonjour madame”, and then goes back to his mopping dance. But it is not long before he is interrupted.
Soulful, crying brass trumpets, trombones, and sax and slow booming drums like sad heartbeats reluctantly carry a swaying procession down the narrow dusty street in front of our house. All the kids in the house rush to the front gates to see the parade. The little ones do not understand… They are excited by the people and the music. Well-dressed mourners with long faces passionately sing as they flow in a river of tears with the one they have lost. For a few seconds, I met the eyes of the elder woman I think lost her love…a husband, a mother, a brother, a mother, a father, a sister, or a friend. Others hold her up as she walks. They keep moving forward, slow dancing with love and loss, and they keep singing into the distance. Like a slow burn, the music surges in front of us and then fades away.
Oh, but never fear, more music rushes in to take its place. I haven’t been in Haiti long, but I have come to realize that music and dancing are everywhere…from the beginning to the end…at home and around every street corner. The music here grounds itself in drums, as traditional Haitian music is deeply connected to sacred rhythms and patterns. Music is even traditionally used in healing here. And the dance the music inspires could be roots, hip hop, jazz, rara, ballet, Haitian meringue or something in between them all. It’s as if music is actually a main component of the air here, like oxygen. Here, you live and breathe it, and you can’t help but move to it and be moved by it.
Even as I am sitting on the grass rug on my floor writing this, looking out my door toward the front porch, all the kids are out there with their homemade bucket drums, tambourines, and shakers, playing along with popular dance songs on the radio. Music can be made using anything. And these kids hear music in everything. And they love to danse, danse, danse. They pull me into the drum circle whenever they get a chance…
And I turn my head from where I sit to the window at the side of my room. I can see sunlight through the banana tree leaves, but I hear hymns sung in melodious yearning unison from the church across the street this Sunday morning. I don’t understand the words they sing, but I can feel what they mean.
It’s not but about 20 minutes later that I realize that there is a dance party going on in the kitchen. Madame Nicole is making a delicious Sunday dinner of chicken and rice. She is such a wonderful nanny. She dances as if no one is watching as she cooks at the stove and then turns flashing her infectious smile, waving her hands and her spoon, urging the kids to dance, too. They break out the mop and broom microphones. And then soon everyone is raising the roof in our kitchen discoteca.
So the beautiful and emotional soundtrack of life here in Haiti just continues to fill the air. And we dance onward to the music we make, to the music we hear, to the music we feel…