This celebration of Haitian heritage is more than just a music festival. It’s a ritual

Miami Herald, By Jacqueline Charles, May 09, 2018

Cereijo_HaitianCompasFestival_14.JPGMiami’s Haitian Compas Festival has endured it all through the years.

It has bounced between venues, staved off competition, tried being a two-day event and has seen its celebrations dampen by rain and bad timing.

Photo:  Fabienne Jean of Miami dances at Bayfront Park Amphitheater at the 2017 Haitian Compas Festival. Credit – Bryan Cereijo, Miami iHerald File

But if there is one thing that has remained constant over the past 20 years — with the annual display of Haitian culture besides its A-list offerings of who’s who in Haitian konpa (also spelled kompa and compas) music — it’s the festival’s reuniting ambiance and promotion of Haitian heritage among Haiti’s growing diaspora.

“People who haven’t seen each other for years or for months make it a rendezvous for them to see each other in Miami,” said music promoter Rodney Noel, promising a lot of high-energy performances during this year’s 20th anniversary celebration on Saturday, May 19, at the festival’s newest venue Mana Wywood, 818 NW 23rd St. “People put it on their calendar as their vacation.”

Henry Cadet, 42, is one of them. Born and raised in Chicago, Cadet says with the exception of the year 2000 when his mother died, he has been to every compas fest, as fans call it for short, since Noel and business partner Jean-Michel Cerenod staged the first showcase on a rocky Virginia Key Beach with the Miami-based band T-Vice headlining.

“I fly in and have 20 to 30 people coming down with me,” said Cadet, a Transportation Security Administration employee who also moonlights as DJ “Bigdaddyrou.” “They are Haitians, Americans, and some are Hispanics. … I even have people from England coming down just to go to the festival.”

Chicago — founded in the late 18th century by Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, who was born in the city of St. Marc in what is now Haiti — has a small Haitian community. But there is nothing like representing the Haitian culture in Miami, Cadet said, during compas fest, which is also a celebration of May 18, the founding of Haiti’s bi-color blue and red flag. (The entire month of May is recognized as Haitian Heritage Month).

“You see the diversity and ethnicity in the Haitian culture, the music and the crafts.,” he said. “It’s like a family thing. Every time you go, you end the visit with, ‘OK, I’ll see you next year.'”

The largest street party post Haiti’s pre-Lenten carnival, compas fest is the largest staging ground in the United States for konpa or konpa dirèk, which was popularized in the 1950s by Haitian saxophonist Nemours Jean-Baptiste, who blended Dominican merengue with Cuban dance genres.

Despite its popularity among Haitians in the diaspora, however, konpa’s distinct seductive beats has been losing some of its appeal in Haiti. Today, rhythms such as rabòday, a dance-friendly dance music emerging out of Haiti’s slums, and hip hop and electronic dance music, mixed with traditional Haitian drums and horns, are what’s bringing out the crowds as they pack venues in larger numbers than konpa bals (dances).

To read more of the article and see more pictures (click here).

Categories Haiti News | Tags: | Posted on May 10, 2018

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