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Black History Month: Haiti!

Maybe in the future there won't be such a thing as 'Black History Month'. Perhaps the calendar will become less 'time sensitive', and we'll have just 'Black History' or, even better, ...'History'!? But, for now, it's a useful prompt to help provide opportunities to investigate and uncover un-represented histories and, more often, re-represent mis-represented recordings of events.

I have been spending this month, like many of the last, continuing to explore the history, musical culture, Magical meanings and political potency of the wonderful nation of Haiti. Haiti is the archetypal 'misrepresented' nation, depicted consistently through media reports and imagery as the 'backwater' of the world (Trump's "Shithole country"). But Haiti's typical image is misleading and belies the phenomenal contribution the nation has made to the history of the world. The Haitian Revolution alone, the unprecedented uprising and overthrow of Imperial Powers, secures Haiti's position as a nation of influence and value. As a Cultural treasure, Haitian music has seldom been separate from political activity and clashes of power. The drums of Bois Caiman still echo today!!!

So what have I been attending this 'Black History Month' and what could you check out if you wish to find out more...?

Re-Representing Haitian Musical Culture

I've been attending a range of seminars (more on those below) but, most excitingly, I've been learning directly from the musicians of Haiti. I have begun a research project which seeks to help educate and inform anyone interested in Haitian Music through a range of online resources. I will be announcing this formally in due course but, for now, I have set up a schedule of learning events with leading drummers in Haiti. This schedule has now begun and I had the pleasure of learning from Sanba Zao earlier in the week - Leeds to Port Au Prince via GoogleMeet!

Sanba is regarded as the 'Grandfather' of Haitian drumming and is still fiercely active with his band Lakou Mizik. Sanba taught me about the various manifestations of the 'Congo' rhythm and how this has altered from its traditional West African form to a Kongo Caribbean adaptation. I learnt about Rada and Petwo types and also saw Sanba's innovative notation system for written organisation and record of his encyclopaedic knowledge of traditional rhythms. Really looking forward to the scheduled lessons with Sanba in the future!

For some excellent videos of Sanba in action, check out Lakou Mizik's performance on live radio in Seattle from 2016 (Sanba kicks things off on vocals and shaker, asking Papa Legba to open the crossroads). The band's excellent collaboration with musicians from New Orleans is also sure to bring a smile to your face and celebrates the shared culture of Haiti and, my favourite, NOLA

If anyone is interested in finding out more about Haitian drumming, get in touch, I'd be happy to help. There is a plan to get some UK online masterclass sessions going, bringing the expert drummers of Haiti to us. If you are interested in this, either privately or for your institution, do let me know. Haitian drumming deserves its place alongside the percussion cultures of Cuba, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Uruguay etc.

Afterlives of the Kingdom of Haiti, 1820-2020: Art, Refinement and Material Culture

This was a fantastic online seminar organised by the Courtauld Institute of Art. The seminar sought to elucidate Haiti's little known period of Monarchy. The event description explains best:

In 1811, Henry Christophe, Generalissimo of the northern territory, crowned himself king. Though this October marks the bicentenary of the fall of the Kingdom of Haiti, this webinar celebrates its manifold artistic and cultural ‘afterlives’, focusing in particular on the strong connections forged between Britain and Haiti. It will explore issues relating to Haitian history and heritage, numismatics, transatlantic artistic production, dress and music produced in or on behalf of the Kingdom of Haiti

Of particular interest to me was the section about the Music of the Haitian court with this event concluding with Premiere performance, result of a collaboration between Haitian-American Soprano Melissa Joseph and Henry Stoll, a researcher of Haitian music at Harvard University. I had the pleasure of meeting Henry after the event, hearing about his research at Harvard and finding out about the profits and pitfalls of field research in Haiti!

A recording of the event can be found at:

Haiti and the Making of the Modern World: Haitian Revolution, Colonialism, Race, Sociology

This was the inaugural event of the 'Connected Sociologies Curriculum Project' which 'emerges from the urgent need to broaden our understandings of the past – to be inclusive of colonial and imperial histories – in order to better understand social and political issues in the present. Addressing the colonial histories of Britain as British history is an inclusive move that seeks to account for the shape of Britain today as a consequence of those histories.'

Most accounts of the modern world, or ‘modernity’, define it in relation to the processes of industrialization and democratization that were seen to occur in Western Europe and North America in the long nineteenth century. Such narratives rarely acknowledge other historical events and processes – such as colonization and enslavement and the resistance to these processes – as equally significant in the ‘making of the modern world’. In this event, we examine the Haitian Revolution, which occurred around the same time as the French and American Revolutions, and discuss its contribution to the making of the modern world.

The event sought to develop an understanding of the Haitian Revolution but, more importantly, present methods for learning from it; bringing it onto curricula and into mainstream education. There has been a concerted effort from a range of international powers to marginalise, disturb and silence Haiti. This session suggests ways towards alternative representations, re-viewing narratives to tell a more complete story.

As the beginning of a set of events, the session was accompanied by a set of readings and resources which can be found at the Connected Sociologies website. Collated by the wonderful Gurminder Bhambra (inspirational on all things HE/decolonial, this resource will certainly be useful into the future. I believe that a full video of the session will be uploaded soon but these resources are a great place to get started.

I hope that these suggestions are interesting and that they can enrich the remainder of your Black History Month... or you could just roll it all into November!

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