Boukman Eksperyans will perform at Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on April 2.
“It was important for us to fight the kind of thinking that makes you ashamed of yourself … the society saw you really badly when you played vodou music”, expressed Lolo and Mimerose “Manze” Beaubrun. Founders of the renowned 12-member Haitian group “Boukman Eksperyens”, Lolo and Manze are taking turns on chat with me from Haiti, describing the philosophy that guided them in the creating of the group and their music.
They met in the late 70’s, shortly after Lolo had returned to his homeland from being in the US for a month. Inspired by seeing Bob Marley live in Madison Square Garden, he was already planning to create a new group that would play Haitian roots music, or “mizik rasin” and met Manze totally by chance when he went to make a phone call at a friend’s house. As he puts it , “The first time we met, something passed between us and we connected since then”. One month later they founded Boukman Eksperyans, named for Dutty Boukman, a self-taught slave leader and Vodou High Priest whose 1791 ceremony sparked the Revolution against the French. The revolt would lead a few years later to Haiti’s birth as the first ever nation of freed slaves. The couple then added the word “eksperyans”, or “experience” in Creole, in homage to the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Lolo and Manze continue to explain how their roots music evolved over time: “The society made us afraid of our culture. Before, we played vodou rhythms the folkloric way, but now we play the drums like it is in the temple”. They emphasize that both music and dance play an enormous role in vodou ceremonies and they felt a desire to express a music that was truly Haitian, something that had never happened before: “Because since Christopher Columbus, that was the beginning of the destruction of the indigenous cultures of the Amerindians. Then, when the Africans came here to work as slaves, the colonists tried to destroy their religions and they also demonized voudou, it was forbidden. Even today in schools, you may hear that our culture is a culture of Satan”.
Lolo and Manze fuse vodou trance music with other kind of musics they have found and explored, like reggae, rock, blues and jazz, making for an irresistible and supremely danceable beat. Their music, however, doesn´t merely connect the vodou temple to the dance floor. They have always sung about the Haitian reality, and their powerful musical messages against political corruption have at times caused them to suffer periods of exile from their country. One of their most famous song´s refrain, “My heart doesn’t leap, I’m not afraid” even became an anthem for Haitians at demonstrations and protests.
Sadly, they do not consider the situation in their beloved land to be improving: “That’s why we are talking about REVOLUTION [caps used in the chat] but a revolution of Love, Truth, Justice. We don’t believe in Violence. But we believe something is going to happen not only in Haiti but all over the world.”