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On the front lines: One doctor’s decades-long fight to heal Haiti
News from Haiti is often about natural disasters and political crises, but the island nation is also home to a burgeoning arts scene. One of the biggest events recently held there was the Port-au-Prince International Jazz Festival, or PAPJAZZ. This year, the festival hosted more than two dozen musical acts from around the world. NewsHour Weekend's Ivette Feliciano reports.
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.
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".
(singing) Somewhere there must be a place where two heartbeats can touch, where lovers can meet in the daylight and find it's enough.
Salvant, who won her third Grammy for best jazz vocal album in February, is American, but also has family in Haiti.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Paul Beaubrun says he feels those influences throughout his own work.
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.
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?
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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Ivette Feliciano shoots, produces and reports on camera for PBS NewsHour Weekend. Before starting with NewsHour in 2013, she worked as a one-person-band correspondent for the News 12 Networks, where she won a New York Press Club Award for her coverage of Super Storm Sandy, which ravaged the East Coast in 2012. Prior to that, Ivette was the Associate Producer of Latin American news for Worldfocus, a nationally televised, daily international news show seen on Public Television. While at Worldfocus, Ivette served as the show’s Field Producer and Reporter for Latin America, covering special reports on the Mexican drug war as well as a 5-part series out of Bolivia, which included an interview with President Evo Morales. In 2010, she co-produced a documentary series on New York’s baseball history that aired on Channel Thirteen. Ivette holds a Master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, where she specialized in broadcast journalism.
Zachary Green began working in online and broadcast news in 2009. Since then he has produced stories all over the U.S. and overseas in Ireland and Haiti. In his time at NewsHour, he has reported on a wide variety of topics, including climate change, immigration, voting rights, and the arts. He also produced a series on guaranteed income programs in the U.S. and won a 2015 National Headliner Award in business and consumer reporting for his report on digital estate planning. Prior to joining Newshour, Zachary was an Associate Producer for Need to Know on PBS, during which he assisted in producing stories on gun violence and healthcare, among others. He also provided narration for the award-winning online documentary series, “Retro Report”.
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