What a weekend it was for Haitian culture, packed with film, and folkloric and popular music.
The recently completed documentary “Father Joseph,” a film about a Haitian priest who started long-term on-going programs in Haiti screened at Union Theological Seminary, last week. Father Joseph Phillipe, Pe Jo in Creole, is a Vincentian priest who hails from the Fondwa countryside about 30 minutes from Jacmel, Haiti.
After his studies, which included stints in the U.S., he focused his work on the Haitian poor, implementing programs for them — Peasant Association of Fondwa, the microcredit organization FONKOZE, and University of Fondwa.
Film director Jeff Kaufman has done a remarkable job of compressing over 25 years of both Haitian history and Father’s Joseph’s work. One views Pe Jo through hard fought successes—the growth and the recipients of his efforts. One experiences his devastating lows —the targeted murder of highly motivated and fearless employee Amos Jeannot, the assassination of a mentor priest, Rev. Jean-Marie Vincent, and the earthquake that physically destroyed the Fondwa school and community center that represented over two decades of work.
The growth of Fonkoze, a bank for the poor who previously were left to the machinations of money lenders, is the most high profile of Father Joseph’s work. Fonkoze has 44 branches serving over 200,000 savers countrywide and additionally provides literacy and business management for the teeniest of its clients’ businesses.
This positive film about Haiti and a Haitian working on behalf of her poorest is available on Netflix.
On Friday, the fourth annual Frisner August Memorial Drum Festival paid tribute to a master drummer who the Haitian and drumming community lost in 2012. Augustin assumed artistic direction La Troupe Makandal in 1981, performed for over 31 years in Haiti, Europe, and Japan, recorded CDs, and influenced generations of drummers teaching a drummer workshop.
On this evening, La Troupe Makandal returned to The New School where in 2000, Augustin performed with jazz master Andrew Cyrille. A segment from the video of that earlier collaboration, Tangled Roots, Vodou meets Jazz, was screened.
After the intermission, the masterful folkloric/vodou group Fanmi Asoto and high-energy rara band Djarara Group finished off the evening. This program, designed to celebrate Frisner Augustin’s memory lovingly carried forward the sacred art that was his life.
Also over the weekend, vodou rock band RAM, based in Haiti — performing the U.S. every two years or so, attracted friends and fans to both SOBs, Friday night and Kreyofest (along with many compas bands) at Wingate Park, on Sunday.
Wrapping up a Haitian weekend, Sunday evening, Beethova Obas turned SOBs into a listening club, a more relaxed atmosphere than the usual, tables abutting the stage filled what is sometimes the dance floor. With lyrical melodies, Obas performed with local musicians and his brother, a fitting and very satisfying evening to all present.