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On Saturday, June 25th, the HCX crowd was at the lovely FiveMyles Gallery located in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn to watch the intriguing and, at times, poignant film When the Drum is Beating directed by Whitney Dow and co-produced by Daniel Morel and Jane Regan . All eyes were on the screen as the film followed the sensational Haitian band Septentrional as it grew amidst the turmoil that has filled Haiti, the former “Jewel of the Antilles.” The documentary featured interviews from many of Septentrional’s colorful band members as they recalled the bands 62 year history.
While watching the movie, we were moved by countless images of the country’s turbulent past; from its former grace as the Western Hemisphere’s first free black nation to the poorest nation in that area. The graphic and heartbreaking images of the aftermath of the 2009 Earthquake caused a visible stir and a quiet sadness to settle in the room. Band members reflected on the transformation that they were able to be a part of, showcasing their music as it changed throughout the years to reflect the nation. One thing that stood out to me was how the rhythm of the music stayed upbeat and joyful, even as the world around the band was quickly crumbling. The members of “a fusion Cuban big band and Haitian vodou beats”[i] deal with danger and dilapidated conditions every day and continue to spread their music to the masses. Staying in the country is dangerous for all members of the 20 piece band, and they could most likely make a comfortable living elsewhere.
With chaos in front of them, they continue to make beautiful music and keep people dancing. They bring joy and happiness wherever they go and are providing a big help to the people of Haiti. Embodying Haitian joy in the midst of upheaval, Septentrional stands as an icon of hope and progress for the people that love their music and love their country.
On the following Thursday, June 30th An n’ Pale | Café Conversations hosted Whitney Dow, the director and co-producer of When the Drum is Beating. After a segment screening of the film, the conversations opened up to Dow as we discussed the source of his interests in Haiti. Dow explained that his first trip to Haiti was actually during the second ousting of Aristide in 2004 and that the climate in Haiti was admittedly uncomfortable.
The film had gone through four to five revisions and major changes before the team considered it complete. Originally aimed at archiving Septentrional’s history alone, the necessity of context became more and more evident. Incorporating contemporary news that was happening in Haiti during the time of the shooting such as the results of the exile of Aristide and the 2010 Earthquake led to the evolution of the film into something much more historically contextual. The question arose as to whether the disagreements between the older and younger band members was exaggerated or plotted into the documentary. In response, Dow pointed to the inevitability of this archaic feud. When old deep cool streams of water meet fast paced warm currents, there’s bound to be a storm, and at least a little steam.
When asked when he became so interested in the question of the Other, Dow replied that it is not so much an intensive study of the Other but a questioning study of self via Other’s stories. A guiding element, Dow notes, is his work with Marco Williams, his partner at their jointly run production company Two-Tone Productions. Working with Williams, Dow said, helped fuel a positive self critique of his position in the social structure of the world, privilege and race.
A special thank you to Whitney Dow and FiveMyles Gallery and Colors Restaurant for hosting HCX.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 12th, 2011 at 11:19 am and is filed under An n' Pale, Archive, Film, HCX Programs, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.