Archive for the ‘kompas’ Category

There is almost always this moment between two people of Haitian descent in certain spaces, when they find out they are of the same background. A connection happens, even if for only that moment, that they understand one another and are happy to find each other whether at a workplace or a social gathering. This is what I like to convey in my work, particularly on Haitian subjects, including to those who are not Haitian.
I’m a first generation Haitian-Canadian/American if that makes any sense. Born in Montreal, Quebec and raised in New York City. My upbringing was pretty much as Haitian as they come but with hymns in French and sermons in kreyol replacing, kompas and anything related to Haitian roots culture. But like most kids raised in the U.S. there was this navigating of dual identities where some of us never learned to speak kreyol or never had the chance to visit the place where our parents came from. My art has been my way to figure it all out.
The project, the Haitian Creatives Project, came out of frustration as an artist whose personal life had hit a very rough patch (but also organically through the relationships with the many New York-based Haitian artists I began to document including Zing Experience and Buyu Ambroise.) I needed something to channel the uncertainty I felt at the time into something productive. So I called, nagged, emailed, different painters, actors, musicians, animators, etc., I knew to take their portraits. It was swim or stupor.
It’s been a year since I officially gave it a name. Some of the portraits have been featured in a group show put together by the Haiti Cultural Exchange, and it has evolved into a multimedia exhibition of sorts, with interviews and mini-documentaries. With that, it takes more time and I want to take it somewhere I never thought possible.
An introduction to the Haitian Creatives Project:
From the Screening in September:
The official page: http://richardlouissaint.com/?fluxus_portfolio=haitian-creatives
The mini-documentaries:

rlouissaint1 rlouissaint2 rlouissaint3


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My identity crisis began in chemistry lab. The class required a clean white coat and safety goggles. I was instructed to wash my hands for two minutes. The soap made my palms feel brittle while the latex gloves stiffened my muscles. My good eye would squint into a microscope that I could never figure out how to adjust properly. Slides covered in splotches of red and purple stains made me lose my appetite. All of this, three times a week.

My Microbiology professor, a Brooklyn native with a thick Puerto Rican accent recognized my struggles early on but judging from the red marks all over my assignments, had zero sympathy for me. But thanks to Rita, my lab partner, I still passed. Her penchant for getting high right before class made her overlook my incompetence and she gleefully did all the work for the both of us.

Rita’s ability to breeze through each assignment despite her marijuana-induced brain was all the more proof that I was not fit to be a dietician.

I switched my major the next term.

Growing up, the common images of Haitian women in the workplace were in hospitals, nursing homes and medical offices. My mother was a nurse. My aunts were medical practitioners. And almost all my Haitian peers were planning on going to medical school upon high school graduation. Unbeknownst to me, I made a life decision based on an internalized cultural stereotype.

Many people of different racial and ethnic groups will internalize positive and sometimes even negative stereotypes about themselves, even when those perceptions limit their worldview. Although I preferred writing and literature over the periodic table and scientific method, I felt tied to the cultural specific labels placed upon me as a Haitian-American woman. Not to mention that I aimed to please my parents who saw an education in medicine much more respectable than one in liberal arts.

I, like many second-generation Haitian-American children, faced conflicts with my identity. The crushing stigmas, stereotypes and careless media reporting about Haiti and its people played a huge role in this. But my desire to be “outside the box,” or separate from the norm conflicted more with my dual identity. Pressure from my parents who I wanted to please and peers who I wanted to prove my authenticity to, all made me struggle with my identity. But my contention eased when I finally left home.

In  2002, I moved from Florida, which boasts the highest population of Haitian immigrants in the United States, and relocated to Georgia. Once there, it slowly became easier for me to define myself. While my nationality is and will always be a part of who I am, I no longer feel tied to all the cultural norms and traditions typically associated with Haitian-Americans.

Living alone and surrounded by mostly non-Haitian people, I rid myself of the “model minority” mystique. My Cringlish could fall off my tongue without embarrassment. I could dance badly to kompa without looks of confusion.  And despite my below average griot, it was still a hit with my American friends.

The most important lesson I learned is that I can never be one without the other. I am very much Haitian as I am American and both components make me who I am today.


Annabella Jean-Laurent is a Haitian-American writer who explores race, media and culture in society. Her current project surrounds an important but little known exhibit called the Negro Building at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition. Follow her @militantbarbie on Twitter and Facebook. 

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Last night I went to a party with my parents. I rode in the back seat of my dad’s car — just like when I was little. The difference now is that my two brothers weren’t with me, and, well, I’m an adult. My husband took the kids out of town for the weekend, one of my brothers lives out of state and the other was on vacation, and since my parents (who don’t live far from me) were also attending my cousin’s 40th birthday celebration, we decided to ride together. It’s been a very long time since I rode to a party with my parents and it brought back a lot of memories.  Nowadays, when my husband and I go out, we find a babysitter…and most wedding receptions are “adult only”,  but back in the day, kids were welcome to attend the (Haitian) parties, so I was in the house!  As a child, the whole family would leave the house all dressed up. My ribbons would be in perfect bows which matched my dress perfectly and the back of my hair would be straightened and out (unbraided). My brothers and dad all sported fresh haircuts and wore their suit and ties, and my mom would be all made up, in a beautiful dress and smelling pretty. We’d pile into the car and take the drive to the party. We lived in New Jersey, so sometimes if the party was in Long Island or Queens the ride would be long and full of exciting things to see (and of course bridge and tunnel traffic). We’d look at all the city scenes, we’d people watch, even look at other people in their cars and wonder where they were going. My dad, who is regularly a — shall i say — “performance driver” would turn up the notch on his aggression meter and start driving like a “New Yorker”. My brothers and I would all be in the back of the car half fearful (of getting in a car accident) and half amazed (that we didn’t get in a car accident).


Finally we’d arrive at the party. We’d get out the car, straighten out our clothes, then enter, looking like a very spiffy family. Our parents would say their hellos, then make us saluer  (greet) all their friends. After that was done, THEN…we (kids) would go play!! We knew it would be a good night and that we’d get to stay up late, so our energy levels were high. We would run around, and chase other kids, I’d twirl my dress with other girls at the party and watch as our skirts bellowed, we’d hide under tables, in crevices of the venue — and it would be such fun. If we ever got out of hand we would get reprimanded by any adult (didn’t matter if they knew us or not). Every once in a while, our play would be interrupted to greet a latecomer friend of our parents, or to dance with someone. I was always embarrassed to dance with grown ups (even my dad), claiming I don’t really like this kompa song, but they’d drag me out to the dance floor and I’d do some version of a dance until finally the song was over and I could continue to run around with the other kids (half of whom i didn’t know — but that didn’t matter). Then it was “halftime” — time to eat. You HAD to eat because this is where dinner would be served tonight, but I certainly didn’t mind (even though it DID interrupt our play). Parties always served the very best of Haitian cuisine: pâtés, accras, du riz collé, du riz ak djon-djon (with shrimp!), bannan pezé ak pikliz, soup joumou, lambi, griot, cabrite…I could go on, but you get the point. Then you also got to wash everything down with Kola Lacaye! Yuuuummmmyyyy!!! Every once in a while – if you were lucky – you even got to taste of some grape concord wine!! And only when you were done eating could you go back to playing with the other kids…until it was time to eat cake. The cake was always a touch dry, with lots of icing (that was a little hard), and had those hard, decorative silver sugar balls on them — but they were beautiful (sometimes they were even decorated with colored fountains!)– so it was worth at least tasting…even though they all seemed to taste the same to me.

At the end of the night, our parents would call us to get ready to go. And without fail, they’d start talking to friends for what seemed like a half hour while we waited…then we’d sneak off and play again. This “call-wait-play” cycle would continue until it was really time to go. By then, my brothers’ ties were crooked, their shirts were outside their pants, my hair ribbons were no longer tied in bows — they just hung down, and the back of my hair was poofy. But we had so much fun. We’d pile into the car, and was glad it was a long ride home because I would cozily look out at the NYC lights until I dozed off to sleep. After last night’s party with my parents, I remembered those times. I almost fell asleep on the ride home, but I didn’t have my brother’s arm to sleep on…and this time, I think I left just as “spiffy” as I had arrived.

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Hi Friends,

We thought you’d like to know that Cornbread and Cremasse co-founders, Ingrid and DJ, will appear as guests this evening (Friday 10/19/12) on the weekly radio show, HAITIAN ALL-STARZ on www.radiolily.com!  Please tune in this evening for great music, learn more about how Cornbread and Cremasse came to be, hear a little about the founders and learn how you can contribute a post to the blog.
The show airs every Friday LIVE 6:00pm- 8:00pm from Miss Lily’s Variety at 130-132 West Houston (at the corner of Sullivan) in the West Village.  It’s a store front radio station — so if you’re in the area, you can even watch!
The show is hosted by DJ Hard Hittin Harry, DJ JayCee, DJ One, and Nit Ra Sit and features Kompas, Ra Ra Kanaval, Zouk, Reggae, Dancehall, Afrobeat and much more. Between the music sets, they generally discuss all things Haitian infused with American and World Pop culture, politics, entertainment, and current events.
We invite you to tune in and listen (wherever you are in the world!) — and please share with friends so they can jam and listen too!  (Go to the http://www.radiolily.com and listen to the stream.)
Hope you enjoy the show!
-Ingrid and DJ

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There are certain songs that as soon as I hear them, I am transported back to my childhood.

If I had to create a soundtrack for my life the musical influences would run the gamut. There would be Pop ( Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince), Rock(Bon Jovi, Springsteen, Aerosmith) , Hip-Hop (A Tribe Called Quest, De la Soul, Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy), classical( Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin), and at the core Haitian music ( Tabou Combo, Skah Sha, Kassav, to name a few).

When I think of Haitian music, so many memories come flooding into my head. I think about the parties that I attended with my parents. I was just happy to be there because I got to stay up late and run around the hall with my cousins. We would sit and giggle at the grown-ups dancing to songs that seemed to last forever. An extra bonus would be if you got to see some grinding going on. The songs went on for what seemed like forever. You’d hear the horns, synthesizer, drums, and found yourself rocking to the beat. Once in awhile the dreaded might happen. An uncle, older male family friend , or worse someone YOUR age would ask you to dance. Your mom would cut you the evil eye and now you had no choice. You begrudgingly went, but spent the entire dance doing a side to side two step and swinging your arms side to side while all the while in a pair of uncomfortable shoes with lace socks.

When this song played, everyone was on the dance floor.

Then there are certain songs that remind me of my Dad specifically. My Dad would have friends over to play dominoes and would have “Tabou Combo” or “Kassav” playing in the background. The music would only be interrupted by the sounds of someone slamming down the winning game piece. I was often their gopher and again I didn’t mind because I got to stay up late once again.

This music is special to me, it defines a part of who I am. My parents aren’t taking me to parties anymore so the music nowadays just serves to transport me back to when I was young.

I still enjoy the music but if you asked me to rattle off the names of some current musicians, I’d be stuck at Wyclef. That’s a shame. I should do better. I will do better. I am going to need your help though. You have to promise to start thinking about your life and what songs/music would represent the various stages of your life. Once you’re done, I would love to hear about it.

Well, l have a start on this life soundtrack of mine. I thank my parents for helping it to be an eclectic mix.

Here’s your assignment for the week: Think about what music defines you? If you had to create a life soundtrack, what would it sound like? I look forward to hearing from you.

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