Saturday, May 4,
Cultural Exchange Pavilion, 12:40 p.m.
Even if you know nothing about the Haitian Vodou religion, there’s still no denying the hypnotic power of a Boukman Eksperyans concert. With upwards of a dozen musicians onstage at any given moment, their live shows are a powerful mix of spiritual and artistic intensity that’s made them Haiti’s best known musical export.
“When we are onstage, we don’t know what will happen,” says bandleader Theodore “Lolo” Beaubrun, Jr. “What matters to us is the spirituality that we bring to the people. And, yes, when we play in Haiti, many people are put in a trance. It’s a ceremony in which we become one through our music.”
The politically conscious leaders of Haiti’s rebellious mizik rasin (“roots music”) movement, Boukman Eksperyans first earned acclaim with their Grammy-nominated 1991 debut Vodou Adjae. They’ve now released close to a dozen albums, including a live recording of their performance at the 2011 Jazz Fest.
During that time, the band has continually strived to live up to its name, which references both Dutty Boukman, the Vodou priest who led Haiti’s first slave uprising, and Jimi Hendrix, whom they consider the “high priest of rock.”
With their soulful vocals and waist-length dreadlocks, Lolo and his wife Mimerose command center stage during live performances, as the rest of the group contributes call-and-response chants, Vodou drumming, dub-style basslines, synth leads, and, yes, Hendrix-channeling guitar.
Lolo credits his father, a television actor, with turning him on to one of his all-time favorite musicians. “My father used to go to the United States in the 1960s,” he recalls. “When I was four or five years old, he brought me back a James Brown album, whose music you can’t help but dance to. And then, in the early ’70s, I got into Pink Floyd, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix—of course—and Bob Marley.”
Like Marley, the group situates its lyrics at the crossroads of revelation and revolution, a fact that did not go unnoticed in a time when Haiti was ruled by a military junta. At a 1993 concert in their native Port-au-Prince, soldiers reportedly fired tear gas into the crowd while fans sang along to “Kalfou Danjere,” a song which warns of a final reckoning in the afterlife.
In the meantime, the group will continue to place ideals over ideologies. “Communism, capitalism, any ‘ism’ is dangerous,” says the singer. “We need a system based on love and cooperation, where people can be free from poverty. The money is there, everything is there, but it’s controlled by a few people. And that, for me, is why we need a revolution. So that we can be what we are, not what they tell us we are.”