Commentary: The international Jazz PAP festival in Haiti, a success story!

Jean H Charles LLB, MSW, JD, is a regular contributor to the opinion section of Caribbean News Now. He can be reached at

By Jean H Charles

Haiti is badly in need of a success story. After the magnum opus of January 1, 1804, which rang the bell for the end of bondage upon black people by the world order of slavery, Haiti has had few success stories. A succession of governments that carried favors more for the former slave holders than for the newly freedmen have contributed to create out of Haiti a failed nation instead of a promised land.

Successive foreign occupations followed by dictatorial regimes and illiberal democracies added to catastrophic disasters have rendered Haiti the poorest country in the world. Its children are leaving the nation by waves, towards more clement skies, it was first the United States, The Bahamas and the Dominican Republic, and it has been Brazil for a while, now it is Chile for desperate Haitians seeking a hospitable corner of this globe for refuge.

Recently, to nail the coffin on Haiti’s international standing, there was the characterization of the country as a “shithole” nation from one of the highest world leaders. And then, around all that hoopla, came the Port au Prince International Jazz Festival, the legacy to Haiti and to the world of Herby Widmaier, who passed away last year, in the form of the Haiti Jazz Foundation.

Well managed by his son Joel and seconded by Milena Sandler as well as by a whole crew of dedicated volunteers, the jazz festival at 12 years old is taking a life of its own. It is brilliant, eclectic, original and almost enchanting like a bit of fresh air for the aficionados.

Run usually in the third week of January, it is the first global jazz festival of the year for those who follow this type of entertainment throughout the world. The organisers have solicited the support of the Haitian government and of different embassies accredited or not in Haiti to send their best jazz ambassadors to the festival.

Those embassies have complied not only in sending their talent but also their treasure in ensuring the festival is a success story. This year the festival is hosting artistes from Mexico, Brazil, Spain, Chile, United States, France, Canada, Germany, and Brussels. The diplomats from these regions did not procrastinate in assuring the job is well done. They used their own time to present their artistes to the public.

The international jazz groups have the good grace to incorporate some Haitian artistes to add a local taste to their rendering, giving a special flavor to each presentation.

The winner to my taste was Erik Truffaz and his group from Switzerland, sponsored by both Switzerland and France. I had to ask Erik how old he was at the end of the performance at the French Institute. He reminded me of myself, getting younger with each birthday. He was jumping, and inviting the audience to participate in this show of spontaneity and creativity well orchestrated beforehand. It was indeed a divine performance under the watchful eye of the blue moon.

There was also the legendary jazz artiste Norman Brown from the West Coast of the United States, as well as Loide Jorge with roots from Africa but born in France and raised in the United States. They bring the essence of jazz music that burst onto the world from the southern slave plantations, spread around the globe and much appreciated by the children of the former slave masters.

Tribute should be given to the American heroes of the jazz movement such as Louis Armstrong, who might be considered the father of the Afro-American jazz experience. Perusing the literature on jazz history, we find the genesis is located in New Orleans. Since the culture, the music and the food of Louisiana can be traced right back to Haiti, par consequent one can deduce that Haiti is the motherland of jazz, well preserved in New Orleans and sent from there to the whole world.

This tradition has been groomed by jazzmen such as Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie (1962); Steve Coleman (1990), Whinstone Marsalis (2010).This musical genre made of African swing and blues coupled with the ancient rhythm of European military bands has taken over the whole world with variations in each country.

As such, at the PAP jazz festival, from Brazil came Leila Pinheiro, who reflected the bossa nova tradition, the branch of jazz developed in the Amazon. Brazil was the country given the place of honor in this 12th edition of the festival. It is due to the important place played by the Afro experience of Brazil, especially in the region of Salvador de Bahia, to the world jazz experience.

From Germany came Marialy Pacheco, with roots in Cuba, speaking perfect English, she is a true citizen of the world, charming audiences all over the planet. She was the first woman to win the first prize at the Montreaux Jazz Festival in France.

From Canada came Emilie Claire Barlow, who enchanted the audience in a fusion performance made of samba, bossa nova and blues rock in the rendition of “Raindrops keep falling on my head”. She is a true world class personage, singing like a Brazilian in the skin of a West Coast Canadian.

And there were so many more jazz artistes, Nicholas Vera Trio of Chile, Ingrid Beaujean of Mexico, Rutshelle Guillaume and Coralie Herard of Haiti, without forgetting the Ram and the Strings, two legendary Haitian orchestras.

As a finale, the PAP jazz festival travels to the town of Montrouis, where under the blue moon, on the beautiful beach of the all inclusive Dicameron resorts, the artistes Beethova Obas, from Haiti, Norman Brown from the United States and Michael Brun with Haitian roots but living in the United States, charmed the audience until late in the evening.

The organizers of the jazz festival also built the future into the conceptual framework of the event. They incorporated the children from the College Catts Pressoir, one of the most innovative primary and secondary schools in Haiti, into the festival program. The college has a standing jazz orchestra.

Amongst the many people that put their hands together to build this magnificent opus one should make a special mention of Beatrice Compere, the MC, who juggled easily the French, Spanish, English and German languages to present the multinational jazz players to the audience.

To conclude, Haiti has several precious cultural stones that need polishing before they are exposed to the world. They might then rise up to the standard of the PAP jazz festival for a worldwide audience to present the Haitian experiences that soothe the soul and the body in this materialistic world. They need true citizen-philanthropists like Widmaier or Max Chauvel of the Nouvelliste who sponsored two Haitian jewels with international standard: Livres en Folie on Thursday Corpus Christi and Artisanat en Fetes in November.

Haiti is seeking volunteers to create the tasteful PPP, public-private partnership or foundation that could incubate the Haitian cultural treasures such as the Carnival, the Rara festival and the Fiesta of Saints to make those extraordinary events into polished cultural experiences for world class travelers. They would then through an all inclusive package draw millions of tourists throughout the year to the country; bringing foreign exchange and helping Haiti to change its status of a failed nation into a shining star of the Caribbean chain.

The PAP Jazz Festival 2019 will take place from January 19 to 26, 2019.

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