Boulo Valcourt was introduced as a national treasure by the keyboard player of Tabou Combo at the Haiti Cultural Exchange (HCX) sidewalk soiree outside of Five Myles Gallery on St. John’s Place last weekend.
He was referred to as a “Haitian Bob Dylan” — not that far of a stretch — for those who don’t know him. Valcourt defines himself as a musician, composer, guitarist, singer and, a painter.
Accompanying himself on guitar, this musician is known for his sultry singing of ballads, many taken from Haitian popular traditions, cover songs in French and his own original music.
Valcourt has been making music since his youth in a musical career spanning five decades. He formed bands in Montreal, New York and Haiti (“Les Caraïbes, Ibo Combo, Horizon 75 and La Caribbean Sextet, to name a few). He has recorded one LP and seven album / CDs
His well-renowned “La Personn O” song became a cultural marker to the turbulent post-Duvalier times in Haiti. Valcourt has influenced the Haitian music scene by producing many songs in the “troubadour” style.
As the audience filtered to the sidewalk venue, Valcourt sang solo entertaining early arrivers.
Pwezi ak Mizik Anba Tonel, Poetry and Music in the “Tunnel,” is the HCX annual outdoor event showcasing both up-and-coming musicians and poets along with seasoned literary and performing artists.
After a bit of musical warming up the crowd, the program of poets began, all reading in Kreyol or French. Poets Andy Pierre-Louis and Fred Lafortune and Schneider Laurent — from poets Georges Castera and Bonel Auguste — read as the sun began to set.
Then, under the lights guest James Noel who traveled from Haiti where he is very active in the literary scene took to the sidewalk. (A collection of his poems was published in 2005 and a children’s book in 2010).
He read from his compilation anthology of 73 Haitian poets and also his own well-known poem “Bon Nouvèl,” that has been put to music by Wooly Saint Louis Jean.
Jeanie Bogart, the other highlighted poet, lives in the metro New York area and grew up writing by the sea of her native Les Cayes. “I did not choose to become a poet,” Jeanie explained. “Poetry chose me. The desire to write consumed me. There was nothing I could do.”
Lehman College Professor of French Tomas Spear said that Bogart was a talented performer of strong writings, adding, “She is a powerful voice, sexy, feminist, and full of anger.”
By late evening, the audience overflowed into the street.
Then, Valcourt and accompaniment brought engaging music to this literary crowd, performing Haitian favorites. The sidewalk filled with dancing — an ultimately satisfying night to wrap up the summer.