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

Are you ready for the Write Stuff? 2018 Applications Now Open

Are you ready for the Write Stuff? 2018 …

Budding music writers listen up! This year's Write Stuff music...

Read More.....
John Coltrane’s The Lost Album: Both Directions at Once hits Top 20 Albums

John Coltrane’s The Lost Album: Both Dir…

Last week's release of John Coltrane's The Lost Album: Both...

Read More.....
Boogie at the Bandstand - Love Supreme's festival within a festival

Boogie at the Bandstand - Love Supreme's…

With an abundance of big names on the larger stages...

Read More.....
Keyon Harrold, Vijay Iyer and EXPO Commissions for 40th Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Fest

Keyon Harrold, Vijay Iyer and EXPO Commi…

The 40th edition of the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival...

Read More.....
Roy Carr 1945 – 2018

Roy Carr 1945 – 2018

Doyen of the music press for half a century and...

Read More.....
Pharoah's Prophecies Pave Way For New Wave Of Spiritual Sentinels At This Year's Love Supreme

Pharoah's Prophecies Pave Way For New Wa…

"I've already had my mind blown once today," a geezerish...

Read More.....
Meshell Ndegeocello and The Bad Plus for Innervisions Fest at Under The Bridge

Meshell Ndegeocello and The Bad Plus for…

Chelsea music venue, Under the Bridge, will play host to...

Read More.....
Brockley Beer & Improv Sessions Brew Up New Series

Brockley Beer & Improv Sessions Brew…

Connoisseurs of craft ales and well-crafted extemporisation, rejoice! Another series of...

Read More.....
Archie Shepp, Phronesis, Kandace Springs and Kit Downes added to EFG London Jazz Festival

Archie Shepp, Phronesis, Kandace Springs…

The line-up for this year's EFG London Jazz Festival, which...

Read More.....
Wynton Marsalis Quartet open up to the spirit of Ornette at Barbican

Wynton Marsalis Quartet open up to the s…

Wynton Marsalis is more forward-thinking than he gets credit for...

Read More.....
Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas step up with Sound Prints at the Village vanguard

Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas step up with…

Joe Lovano remarked that "it was the end of an...

Read More.....
Jazz Women celebrated at Jazz Centre UK exhibition

Jazz Women celebrated at Jazz Centre UK …

Southend-on-Sea's Jazz Centre UK presents a major exhibition, Jazz Women...

Read More.....
Boggamasta boogie on down at Brussels Jazz Weekend

Boggamasta boogie on down at Brussels Ja…

The UK equivalent to the Brussels Jazz Weekend would be...

Read More.....
Orphy Robinson gets Gibraltar rocking beyond Borders

Orphy Robinson gets Gibraltar rocking be…

British vibes virtuoso Orphy Robinson is artist-in-residence at the year's...

Read More.....
Vijay Iyer Sextet and Julian Lage jive to Jazz Cafe

Vijay Iyer Sextet and Julian Lage jive t…

Having reopened its doors in January 2016, following a multi-million-pound...

Read More.....
Jon Hiseman 1944-2018

Jon Hiseman 1944-2018

One of the UK's foremost drummers and bandleaders, Jon Hiseman...

Read More.....
Airto Moreira's Afro-Samba Anthems Raise Roof At Ronnie's

Airto Moreira's Afro-Samba Anthems Raise…

  No greater sign of changing times comes than in this...

Read More.....
Ayanna Witter-Johnson and Binker & Moses head to Harrogate

Ayanna Witter-Johnson and Binker & M…

The Harrogate International Festival, which has been running for over...

Read More.....
Voting Now Open for 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Awards

Voting Now Open for 2018 Parliamentary J…

Voting is now open for the 2018 Parliamentary Jazz Awards...

Read More.....
Lost John Coltrane Quartet Album surfaces on Impulse!

Lost John Coltrane Quartet Album surface…

A previously unreleased session by the classic John Coltrane Quartet...

Read More.....
Etienne Charles Triumphant At The Tabernacle With Timely Blend Of Defiance And Celebration

Etienne Charles Triumphant At The Tabern…

  This venue has deep historical resonance for black music in...

Read More.....
Jean Toussaint All-Star 6Tet Shine Bright At Ronnie Scott's

Jean Toussaint All-Star 6Tet Shine Brigh…

  'All-star' is a term mostly out of fashion these days...

Read More.....
Horn Doyenne Holsen Hones Minimalist Drones For Hubro Album Launch

Horn Doyenne Holsen Hones Minimalist Dro…

The Norwegian brass-band tradition, which first evolved in that country...

Read More.....
Vandermark and Nilssen-Love Blow Down Brighton's Green Door

Vandermark and Nilssen-Love Blow Down Br…

  The streets of Brighton have been overflowing with music fans...

Read More.....
Tully Takes The Prize To Ronnie's

Tully Takes The Prize To Ronnie's

  What better way to celebrate the conferring of an honour...

Read More.....
Rebirth Of The Cool: Shabaka Hutchings, Thundercat and Nubya Garcia lead a jazz takeover at Field Day

Rebirth Of The Cool: Shabaka Hutchings, …

  After years of going to jazz gigs and being the...

Read More.....
Anthony Braxton's ZIM Sextet go exploring at Cafe OTO

Anthony Braxton's ZIM Sextet go explorin…

  With the death of Cecil Taylor a few weeks ago...

Read More.....
New British Jazz Generation Blasts Bath With Spiritual Baptism

New British Jazz Generation Blasts Bath …

Bath Festival applied radical surgery to their roster of festivals in...

Read More.....
PYJAEN Prosper At Peckham's Ghost Notes

PYJAEN Prosper At Peckham's Ghost Notes

Catching bands at the beginning of their journeys is so often...

Read More.....
Sons of Kemet, Ashley Henry and Yussef Dayes groove at the Great Escape

Sons of Kemet, Ashley Henry and Yussef D…

Since its beginnings in 2006, Brighton's festival of new music...

Read More.....
Zara McFarlane and Jazzmeia Horn among highlights at St Lucia Jazz Fest

Zara McFarlane and Jazzmeia Horn among h…

In recent times this event has had a tenuous relationship...

Read More.....
Rainforest Reveries: Crawford and Simcock In Arboreal Praise For Powys As Birdsongs Take Flight At Hampstead Arts Fest

Rainforest Reveries: Crawford and Simcoc…

Released last month on Basho Records, Birdsong/Cân yr Adar fuses...

Read More.....
Claire Martin, The Printmakers and Jamie Cullum line-up for 606 Club 30 years at Lots Road Festival

Claire Martin, The Printmakers and Jamie…

Chelsea's salubrious jazz den, the 606 Club, is to mark...

Read More.....
Collective X line-up for Love & Protest at Stratford Circus

Collective X line-up for Love & Prot…

Genre-defying London-based group Collective X, led by singer Alya Al...

Read More.....
Love Supreme summit at London's Roundhouse

Love Supreme summit at London's Roundhou…

A blazing afternoon sun, beer-drinking crowds, and smooth electronic beats...

Read More.....
The Lage Lund Trio, Julia Hülsmann and Christopher Dell inspire at Jazzfest Bonn

The Lage Lund Trio, Julia Hülsmann and C…

During its unlikely spell as the post-war capital of West...

Read More.....


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

To the Holy Spirit, the truth-teller, happy birthday Albert Ayler https://t.co/sl5Slmuf7z https://t.co/CO2YyQRl6y
Follow Us - @Jazzwise
Ageless Astatke Leads African Head Charge At Jazz Á Vienne https://t.co/HbkYnrCfYb … @janesworlde @jazzavienne… https://t.co/CLAeyewpWJ
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