You didn’t need to be in Haiti at the Hotel Oloffson last Thursday night to hear the voodoo-rock band RAM.
For more 25 years, every Thursday night, through thick and thin, calm and upheaval, when they’re not touring — RAM legendarily performs at the Oloffson in Port-au-Prince.
But on Thursday, July 5, RAM played the grass-filled Springfield Park, located in the middle of Springfield Gardens, Queens, practically beneath the flight path to JFK.
The nine-piece band of Haitian musicians, playing traditional and adapted rhythms and melodies, infused the atmosphere, totally engaging the crowd obviously starved for music from their homeland. Loyalists traveled from Long Island, Brooklyn and even Manhattan in addition to coming from the neighborhood and nearby Cambria Heights.
Ancient folkloric polyrhythms intertwined harmoniously with punk rock guitar riffs (an influence from its founders’ Max’s Kansas City days) and swinging Caribbean keyboard melodies combine for the experience of RAM.
This summer 2018 tour is also part of the band’s CD launch “RAM 7 August 1791”, their seventh album, but the first in over a decade — harnessing all the elements that came together and led to the country’s unprecedented founding — the African and the Creole, the rural and the urban, the Christian and the vodou, the traditional and the exploratory.
RAM is named from the initials of founder Richard A. Morse who with Lunise Morse, his wife and the band’s lead singer and dancer, performed new songs as well as leading the audience while they danced and sang to favorites.
Decked all in white and glowing, Lunise mesmerized the crowd. A few years back, their son William returned home after college and joined RAM, playing guitar.
Two of the band’s musicians play vaksins, the distinctive multiple one-tone horns typically heard in street and carnival processions. “They’re playing our music — rara,” beamed one happy attendee.
Musician and musicologist Ned Sublette, who’s been attending gigs since Morse started performing in the U.S., a good 24 years ago, was among those in the crowd. “RAM is a unique band, in Haiti and the world,” he said. “Simply unique.”
RAM has played international concerts and festivals in the U.S., France, the United Kingdom, Mexico, and Brazil, and, earlier this year, Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. This road trip commenced in Queens, went on to Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania, and is scheduled to play in Massachusetts, Detroit and Jackson, Mich., before heading home.
On last week’s perfect summer evening, while Haitian music lovers filtered into the park, DJ Hard Hitting Harry warmed up the crowd spinning Haitian racine “roots” music, its amplified sounds drifting out over the streets.
Also on the program, singer and multi-instrumentalist Paul Beaubrun, son of Boukman Eksperans, and his band playing Haitian, Afro-roots, and blues, opened the evening.
The performances are part of the City Parks Foundation SummerStage series with many more scheduled in Central Park and neighborhood parks citywide throughout the summer.