Thursday, January 8, 2009

Drumming and Dancing in Little Haiti

The sun is setting in Little Haiti at Ray’s Farm where Kepler Philippe is tapping on his drum – amidst the goats, chickens, kittens and emus -- in preparation for playing with Papaloko’s band Loray Mistik. Philippe arrived in Miami via boat in 2000 and is currently studying criminal justice. He’s known in his hometown of Jeremie (in the South of Haiti) as the “Father of the Poor” though he’s not yet 30. He along with David Sylvain (who are 100% of the Vodou faith) run a charity called Copa which both seed from their pockets to feed the poor back in their island nation. Sylvain arrived in 2007 and is too shy to speak English as yet and communicates in French, Creole or through Philippe. His has a visual arts degree from Haiti and when not painting portraits for a living he is drumming with the band. Philippe also writes poetry in English, Creole and French and wants to educate people as he sees “education as the key to open the door.”

The arranger or Maestro as the band refers to him is Clark Cajuste. He was born in Port-au-Prince but travelled via plane to New York City and then to Miami where he grew up with his family. He is among the original band members and plays drums and keyboards – visually striking with long dredlocks, Cajuste’s smile is outshone by his eyes that dance along with the music. Togbivi, known as “Bivi” is the final drummer in the group – he arrived in Miami when he was 15 -- and is also among the founding members of the band. He is currently studying at university though the music to a song honoring the spirit Ogun soon put a stop to conversation.

The drumming takes off and Papaloko – dressed all in a flowing white tunic and pants has a small white triangular cap perched on his head – begins to sing and drum. Rena Llaves, who moved to Miami from New Mexico seven years ago – begins to dance and adds a percussive beat with a rattle from Brazil. Rena, who is of Navajo and Apache ancestry, met Papaloko through dance. Her heritage of dance she believes is similar to the Haitian dances as both cultures have a similar beat (Afro-centric according to Rena) dance for nature including dances for the rain, sunshine, love and in honor of their antecedents.

The guests have brought candles from Elsie’s botanica featuring the faces of the black and white spirits Erzuli Danto (more aggressive of the two) and Erzuli Freda (the most feminine of the spirits) along with a case of Heineken (the band’s drink of choice). The band is set-up on a rustic porch overlooking the barnyard and adjacent to a wooden house in charming disrepair. Ray, the owner of the farm is well-respected in Little Haiti though none could cite his last name. He has spent his own money buying up the crack houses, renovating them and renting them to new people who are making the north end of Little Haiti the next hot place to live in Miami.

Llaves and Papaloko move to the center and dance a sensual and inviting pattern that has the guests joining in before the sun completely moved down in the sky. Joy and peace light up the band’s faces and the easy laughter and teasing moves between them and the guests creating an honor of respite from the working day as the singers opine about “La Sirena que Bailan.”

No comments: