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Jazz festival highlights Haiti's contributions to the arts


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Hari Sreenivasan: Much of the news we hear from Haiti has to do with natural disasters and political crises. But, of course, a society has much more than that. In fact, the island nation is also home to a vibrant and growing arts scene. NewsHour Weekend's Ivette Feliciano reports from the capital city of Port-au-Prince on one of that country's biggest cultural events, which attracts top musicians from around the globe.

Cécile McLorin Salvant: (singing) Life's great, life's grand. Future's all planned. No more clouds in the sky. How am I riding? I'm riding high.

Ivette Feliciano: On a warm winter evening in Haiti, jazz singer Cécile McLoren Salvant performs before a live audience at the thirteenth annual Port-au-Prince International Jazz Festival--or "PAPJAZZ".

Cécile McLorin Salvant: (singing) Somewhere there must be a place where two heartbeats can touch, where lovers can meet in the daylight and find it's enough.

Ivette Feliciano: Salvant, who won her third Grammy for best jazz vocal album in February, is American, but also has family in Haiti.

Cécile McLorin Salvant: Haiti is a strange, strange land for me. It is extremely familiar on the one hand, probably because of my ancestry. And yet, I'm a total alien here. I'm a total tourist. Performing at PAPJAZZ gives Salvant the opportunity connect with her Haitian roots in different ways, like visiting with students in the Haitian Education and Leadership Program. They favor her with some of the music they've been working on... and Salvant returns the favor. I wanna get to know Haiti in a much deeper way. I wanna refamiliarize myself with this place that is somehow back there somewhere, you know?

Ivette Feliciano: For 33-year old singer-songwriter Paul Beaubrun, PAPJAZZ offers an opportunity to reconnect. Born and raised in Port-au-Prince, Beaubrun was sent to live in New York City when he was 17 because of political unrest in Haiti. How did that experience shape you as a young man and your relationship to Haiti?

Paul Beaubrun: Yeah. In the beginning it-- it was hard, you know? I was-- I was very depressed. Even though I have family, you know, I stayed with my aunts, I love New York, you know, those age, like 17, 16-17-18, you're, like, you don't know who you are yet. You know? I wanted my country to raise me more. But it didn't happen that way.

Ivette Feliciano: Since 2007, PAPJAZZ has been bringing together artists from all over the world. This year the festival hosted some two dozen musical acts from Haiti, the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America. In addition to live concerts, the festival features musical workshops and traditional Haitian performances like "rara"--street music performed with horns and percussion. PAPJAZZ founder, Joël Widmaier, says the festival helps to showcase Haiti's contribution to world music--as well as his country's ability to host an international event.

Joël Widmaier: We try to-- to-- to-- to show the-- the variety of Haitian music. That's important to us. And we mix it with jazz. It's a music that embrace all-- all the culture. From Europe, it's very different from what-- what they do in the States. It's a different sound, a different approach to the music. And-- Latin jazz also, so-- in one night you can see three concert, and they're all different.

Ivette Feliciano: Cecile McLorin Salvant notes that jazz itself has roots in Haitian music. After the Haitian Revolution ended in 1804, many free and enslaved Haitians ended up in New Orleans.

Cécile McLorin Salvant: A lot of people wanna talk about, like, jazz was born in New Orleans, which is, in some ways, true. But it, to me, was born out of this particularly American fusion of all these different kinds of music. Haiti was a part of that. And then what is very interesting to me is these cycles of influence and then, you know, Haitian musicians then being influenced by jazz and by be-bop later-- you hear it in a lot of-- a lot of-- Haitian music.

Ivette Feliciano: Paul Beaubrun says he feels those influences throughout his own work.

Paul Beaubrun: For me it's natural to play blues, jazz. It's natural to play reggae. It's natural to play soul, R&B. If you hear them, they're not that different. They are sisters and brothers, you know? Same mother. So they are all one family.

Ivette Feliciano: Beaubrun hopes that PAPJAZZ will put Haiti on more people's musical map. What are you hoping visitors from outside of the country will get from the Jazz Fest?

Paul Beaubrun: I hope they become Hai-- Haiti's ambassadors. You can see a whole different side of it. And-- and the beauty. The people.

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