On Thursday, June 15th– Haiti Cultural Exchange (HCX) kicked off Selebrasyon!: New York’s Festival of Haitian Music, Dance, Film and Art at our home-base at FiveMyles Gallery in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Our first night was a true fête, titled Records and Rhum. DJ Hard Hittin’ Harry opened the night spinning old school Haitian vinyl while the crowd enjoyed delicious rhum cocktail classics served by WSJ Bartending: an old fashioned, rhum punch, and the “Ayiti Cherie”. All cocktails featured Barbancourt and Providence Haitian rhums. As guests sipped their drinks and mingled, Lakou NOU 2022, artist-in-residence, Robenson Mathurin, gave an interactive demonstration of konpa dance. The word konpa means ‘beat’ and describes both the dance and the accompanying music. Guests, Haitian and non-Haitian alike, followed along to the sensual sway and rhythm of Haiti’s meringue and jazz influenced music. Mathurin not only told the story of this Haitian dance but explained the difference between konpa and other related styles of Caribbean dance like bachata and salsa. His demonstration was an authentic representation of always respecting the music and culture and gave everyone a feel for true konpa. The night closed with an exciting performance by legendary singer Alan Cavé. As soon as Alan hit the stage, the crowd was on their feet—singing every song and dancing along to every note, even joining Alan on stage throughout the night—it was a true Selebrasyon!
Night two- Friday, June 16th– was our Haitian Culinary Experience. Chef Natacha Gomez opened the night captivating our senses of smell, taste and sight with a beautiful grazing table full of Haitian bak fritay delights such as akra pwa neg, bannann peze, pate kode, a rum-infused fruit salad, chicken with tamarind sauce and more—all accompanied by a spicy side of pikliz. While eagerly awaiting the chance to taste the goodness—Chef Gomez gave attendees a lesson in Haitian culinary history, noting how the Haitian culinary landscape is a direct product of Taino cooking techniques and Indigenous ingredients as well as African, French and Spanish cooking techniques and ingredients brought over from the old world. The night continued with tasting the delicious food, a mix and mingle and book signing by the Chef.
On night three- Saturday, June 17th– we celebrated together with Solo Dance Performances by the impeccable Steeven Labady and innovative Nubian Néné. Both performers showcased new solo work- in-progress that called on the audience to reflect on the state on Haiti, its history, present and future through interpretative dance and visual artistry.
The first weekend of Selebrasyon! closed out with Haiti Film Night on Sunday, June 18th. FiveMyles transformed into a movie theater for the night, featuring classic theater snacks such as popcorn and drinks, alongside Haitian snack favorites: pate, plantain chips and dous makos. We screened the New York Premiere of ‘Agwe’ by Samuel Suffren and Haiti Film Fest 2022 Selection- ‘Toro La Cou’ by Pierre-Michel Jean. ‘Agwe’ tells the story of a wife and husband trying to survive the rural countryside of Haiti and when desperation hits, a husband is left to leave his pregnant wife and take his chance on an illegal boat to Miami while the next film ‘Toro La Cou’ showcases rara music, dance and culture on the island. After the screening, the audience engaged in a lively Q&A session with Executive Director Régine M. Roumain and Development Associate Kristina Hodelin. The conversation focused on the representations of gender in both films, the place of women in each story, religious commentary and ties to Vodoun as well as the concept of borders.
Thursday, June 22nd– kicked off our second week of Selebrasyon! with Teyat Kreyòl. Thought-provoking actors Schneider Laurent and Billy Midi transported us to Haiti with theatrical performances of classic stories in Kreyòl and French. The powerful retelling of the revolution and the state of the country today were depicted and viscerally felt through Laurent and Midi’s dynamic performance. The narratives were enhanced through Wooly Saint-Louis Jean’s moving musical accompaniment of renditions of classic Haitian folk songs.
Day six- Friday, June 23rd– Lakou NOU Re-Envisioned was a celebration of two artists from the 2022 cohort of Lakou NOU: Steven Baboun and Lalin St. Juste. Lakou NOU is HCX’s annual residency program that provides four artists of Haitian descent the opportunity to build their art practice while engaging Haitian neighborhoods throughout Brooklyn. On this night, Baboun showcased his photography and fabric installation which has adorned the HCX office in FiveMyles Gallery since the beginning of Selebrasyon! Baboun engaged in a conversation about his work with curator Yvena Despagne and the audience. Lalin St. Juste gave an alluring soundscape performance of her music. Both Baboun and St. Juste’s work speaks to what it means to be Haitian across the diaspora and shows us we can all create and re-create from our own Haitian gaze outside of the dominant Western narratives associated with Haitians. We create who we are as dynamic people.
Saturday, June 24th was our Closing Night. One thing Haitian people know how to do is have a good time–we started and ended Selebrasyon! with a fête! Haitian songstress, Darline Desca graced the FiveMyles stage with a wonderfully rhythmic set. As the crowd danced and the gallery heated up, Desca exited and Plezi Rara took the audience on a musical journey, leading us out to continue the party outside of the gallery.
Selebrasyon! was a beautiful culmination of music, dance, film and art. The festival brought together Brooklyn communities to experience the innovation and expressive culture of Haiti and its diaspora. Thanks to generous donations from attendees like you, Haiti Cultural Exchange is able to keep growing and bringing Haitian culture to more and more people in New York and beyond.
A special shout-out to Bonbon Lakay (351 5th Ave, Brooklyn) for catering a variety of Haitian goodies for the festival and thank you to Drink Lounge (758 Franklin Ave, Brooklyn), our official Selebrasyon! after-hours.