RAM, Johnbern Thomas and Javier Colina enchant at PAPJazz, Haiti's Festival International de Jazz de Port-au-Prince

photomorel-29                                                                                                                                                                                    RAM. Credit: Daniel Morel

Two words: bon bagay. That's 'good thing' in Haitian Kreyòl, a phrase you hear everywhere in Port-au-Prince. It's a compliment and an expression of joie de vivre, which, in spite of all they've had to endure, Haitians have in spades. A lot has changed in Haiti's capital since my visit last year. The process of rebuilding, following the devastating earthquake of 2010, continues apace. The crippled National Palace has finally been demolished, ready for reconstruction, and all around the Champ Mars, the city's main square, new structures are rising from their foundations.

PAPJazz, the city's jazz festival, now in its 12th year, is going from strength to strength too – flying the flag for Haiti's underrated music scene and doing its bit to challenge the toxic, reductive view of the country peddled by vulgar man baby presidents and the global ill-informed. It's a very good thing. It's not-for-profit and most of the gigs are free. They also do a huge amount in the way of outreach. Visiting artists give free masterclasses and they've recently set up a music school programme, to train the next generation of Haitian musicians.

There's a wealth of talent in the current generation and this year's line-up had even more Haitian acts on the bill (18, versus 12 visitors). One of the standout performances came from brilliant Haitian drummer Johnbern Thomas, who was presented with a special award for services to jazz in Haiti. On the open-air stage down at Quisqueya University, where most gigs took place, he delivered a blazing set of standards and post-bop originals, drawn from 2017 debut Mèsi, Merci, Thank you, Gracias. The highlight was an insanely syncopated whip through 'Scrapple From The Apple', which brought switches of feel from calypso to latin and racing swing to swaggering half-time funk. Thomas unleashed rim shot hail storms and a trio of superb American guests – pianist Aaron Goldberg, alto player Godwin Louis and trumpeter Darren Barrett – raised the intensity further, vying with one another in epic joint solos.

gtr                                                                                                                                                                        Wesli. Credit: Josué Azor/PAPJazz

Goldberg was on fire again that night, at the afterhours jam. These intimate sessions, held at bars around the city, are a PAPJazz signature. They're a chance to chat to the musicians and they give the festival a sense of community that I haven't experienced anywhere else. The crowds are great here too. They're always so warm and appreciative and there were huge receptions even for less obviously crowd-pleasing acts. A magnificent Spanish trio comprising veteran bassist Javier Colina, guitarist Josemi Carmona and percussionist Bandolero got a well-earned standing ovation for their fusion of bristling flamenco and jazz. They stepped things up a gear for the finisher, Carmona's 'Tangroove', which opened with a theatrical guitar introduction, worked in bluesy solos and climaxed with a storm of sharply-accented chords and cajon wingbeats.

Though it had a core of jazz tradition, this year's bill was also noticeably broader, and did an excellent job of representing the diversity within Haiti's music scene. One of the best crossover sets came from Wesli, a Port-au-Prince born vocalist/guitarist now based in Montreal. Playing tracks from his latest release, ImmiGrand Deluxe, he mixed Afrobeat grooves and silvery soukous guitar riffs with jangling Haitian troubadour styles, funk horn lines, reggae, rap kreyòl and riotous rara carnival music. It was an intoxicating mashup, enhanced by Wesli's boundless on stage charisma.

Follow                                                                                                                                                                  Follow Jah. Credit: Josué Azor/PAPJazz

RAM, perhaps Haiti's best known band internationally and pioneers of the Haitian magpie approach, were better still. Their Friday night headline performance, at Place Boyer, a public square in the suburb of Pétion-Ville, was a tour de force – fusing hypnotic vodou drum patterns, rara horn blasts, yowling rock guitar riffs and enchanting vocals. The atmosphere was electric, with a capacity crowd singing along at the top of their lungs. Rara marching band Follow Jah were there too, stilt-top dancers in tow, hammering their drums, blasting their konet (vuvuzelas made from beaten metal) and buzzing their bass bamboos between sets.

NormanBrown                                                                                                                                                           Norman Brown. Credit: Josué Azor/PAPJazz

Rara is fast becoming an obsession. It's joyful, intoxicating and raw, like the best Balkan brass music or the marching bands of New Orleans. There was a lot more of it on the final night, when the festival moved to Royal Decameron, a resort on an exquisite stretch of coastline north of Port-au-Prince. After an hour of flawless funk from an ultra-tight band led by US guitarist Norman Brown, who vocalised his own lightning fast blues licks and jerking bends, Follow Jah led a delirious rum-fuelled dance party on the beach. A closing DJ set from Port-au-Prince born EDM star Michael Brun, wound up the same way. In the dying minutes, vocalist Steeve Valcourt and rara band Lakou Mizik stormed the stage to play collaborative party track 'Gaya', leading a final rara-driven rave down on the sand when the clattering beats and shuddering beams of sub bass had subsided.

It's moments like that that make PAPJazz one of my favourite jazz festivals anywhere. It has so much character – you couldn't replicate it anywhere else – and it's so much fun. The Haitians say it best: bon bagay.

– Thomas Rees

PAPJazz will return 19-26 January 2019. For more info: www.papjazzhaiti.org/fr/

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website

If you do not change browser settings, you consent to continue. Learn more

I understand

Breaking News

Manhattan Comes To Rottingdean

Unexpected pleasures are the best, even for jazz fans, and...

Read More.....

Saxophonist Alexander Bone wins Kenny Wh…

Twenty-two-year old saxophonist Alexander Bone (above) has been announced as...

Read More.....

LA Fusion stars Spirit Fingers fire-up f…

Virtuosic LA jazz-fusion band Spirit Fingers are set for a...

Read More.....

Call The Cops: Jazzers Run Riot At Bruss…

The annual Brussels Jazz Weekend operates on a gargantuan scale...

Read More.....

Hundred Years Gallery Holds Speaker-Thon

The Hundred Years Gallery, a not-for-profit space showcasing free improvisation...

Read More.....

Babelfish swim to Kings Place for Once U…

Acclaimed jazz-folk group Babelfish are set to launch their new...

Read More.....

Michael Janisch kicks out the jams for n…

Whirlwind Recordings label boss Michael Janisch (above centre) steps back...

Read More.....

Lost Miles Davis Rubberband album snaps …

Rubberband, a previously unissued 1985 album by Miles Davis, is...

Read More.....

Grégoire Tirtiaux and Gratitude Trio lea…

This is a festival where it’s possible to completely miss Kamasi...

Read More.....

Final Bow For The Night Tripper – A Trib…

Refuting the title of his biggest hit, ‘Right Place, Wrong...

Read More.....

Rossano Sportiello rounds out Harriet Co…

For 40 amazing years, the singer Harriet Coleman has presented...

Read More.....

Ronnie Scott’s rolls up to Royal Albert …

Ronnie Scott’s, the iconic London jazz club, will mark its...

Read More.....

Wollny Steals The Night As Moran Breaks …

The first thing to notice were the queues, over 200...

Read More.....

Steam Down, Emma-Jean Thackray and Leafc…

Stroud’s reputation as the alternative hippy hub of the Cotswolds...

Read More.....

Andrew McCormack returns with Graviton: …

Award-winning pianist Andrew McCormack storms back with the second volume...

Read More.....

Jazz Cafe sax summit kicks off second Lo…

Following its successful inaugural run last year, the London Saxophone...

Read More.....

McFerrin Moves Estonian Voices To Jubila…

The second half of Tallinn’s 10-day Jazzkaar festival was particularly...

Read More.....

Herbie Hancock, Terri Lyne Carrington an…

The line-up for this year’s EFG London Jazz Festival is...

Read More.....

Williams And Mancio Find Home With Subli…

  Kate Williams and her distinctive Four Plus Three, that’s her...

Read More.....

McBride, Porter, Reeves and Jazz At Linc…

Although it is a respected cultural event throughout the Caribbean...

Read More.....

Major unreleased Tubby Hayes Fontana alb…

Christmas comes early for fans of the late, great Brit-jazz...

Read More.....

Ripsaw Get Rolling

Baritone saxophonist Cath Roberts and guitarist Anton Hunter take their...

Read More.....

Cello Fellows Honsinger, Dixon & Lon…

The fifth annual Chicago Jazz String Summit took place at...

Read More.....

Bristol Jazz Fest launches Crowdfunder l…

The Bristol International Jazz & Blues Festival has launched a...

Read More.....

Marcus Miller, Tim Garland and Leïla Mar…

The full line-up for this year’s Manchester Jazz Festival has...

Read More.....

Joshua Redman And Sosa Electrify Spirits…

After last year’s swelter, Cheltenham Festival offered a more temperate climate for...

Read More.....

Friedlander Frames Family Memories At Ka…

  If many contemporary jazz festivals opt for maximum numbers, gigs-wise...

Read More.....

Bonsai band bounce out for album and UK…

Progressive jazz five-piece Bonsai – formerly known as Jam Experiment...

Read More.....

Prieto Exhibits Latin Prowess, While Med…

This 30th edition of the Savannah Music Festival featured a...

Read More.....

Jazz 625 BBC4 Live broadcast and Free St…

With Cheltenham Jazz Festival set for a busy six days...

Read More.....

Steam Down Collective, Sons Of Kemet, Ca…

This year’s Jazz FM Awards ceremony took place at Shoreditch...

Read More.....

Ribot Leads Revolutionary Call At Jazz E…

Portugal’s premier experimental jazz bash, Jazz em Agosto, adopts a...

Read More.....

Cinematic Orchestra, Friday Arena and Ba…

The organisers of this year’s Love Supreme Jazz Festival, which...

Read More.....

John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension …

  Kicking off this evening’s set with a high-octane crash through...

Read More.....

Terri Lyne Carrington, Joe Lovano and Lu…

This year’s EFG London Jazz Festival, its 27th edition, runs...

Read More.....

Stanley Clarke Captivates With Crowd-Sur…

As Return to Forever bass legend Stanley Clarke (pictured above) opened...

Read More.....

Making The Cut Mpu 300x500px

Subcribe To Jazzwise

Advertisement

Call 0800 137201 to subscribe or click here to email the subscriptions team

Get in touch

Jazzwise Magazine,
St. Judes Church,
Dulwich Road, 
Herne Hill,
London, SE24 0PD.

0208 677 0012

Latest Tweets

Manhattan Comes To Rottingdean https://t.co/gAWb7OSm6e @GeorgeColligan @Rottingdean @eddiemyer1 https://t.co/aElIbOMfLj
Follow Us - @Jazzwise
Catch the stunning exhibition of African-American photojournalist Ernest C. Withers’ work at the Michael Hoppen Gal… https://t.co/DOVT0ZnZTc
Follow Us - @Jazzwise

Newsletter

© 2016 MA Business & Leisure Ltd registered in England and Wales number 02923699 Registered office: Jesses Farm, Snow Hill, Dinton, Salisbury, SP3 5HN . Designed By SE24 MEDIA