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Boukman Eksperyans

Haitian mizik rasin Port au Prince, Haiti
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Photo Credit: photo courtesy of artist
photo courtesy of artist

Founded in 1978, Boukman Eksperyans is one of Haiti’s most beloved bands. After the group’s charismatic leader, Theodore “Lòlò” Beaubrun, Jr., saw Bob Marley perform, he was inspired by Marley’s example to similarly uplift and amplify Haiti’s traditional music and its spiritual message. In the decades since, Lòlò and his wife Mimerose, better known as Manzè, pioneered a vibrant cultural movement, now known as mizik rasin.

First called vodou adjae, mizik rasin means “roots music” in Haitian Creole (Kreyol), a synthesis of French with numerous West African languages. Mizik rasin fuses the sacred music of the Afro-Haitian religion Vodou with electrified elements of rock and R&B. The band’s moniker reflects this powerful cultural amalgam: it combines the name of Boukman Dutty, a Vodou priest who led the famous 1791 ceremony at Bois Caïman that is credited with sparking the Haitian revolution, with eksperyans, an invocation, in Kreyol, of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. “Eksperyans” also reflects the Beaubrun’s embrace of the Vodou philosophy that “all has to be one in love.”

A comic actor as well as a musician, Lòlò Beaubrun comes from a family of famous artists; his father, Theodore Sr., was a famous stage and screen actor better known in Haiti as Languichatte Debordus, for the popular comedic character he played on television. Lòlò’s parents were also dancers, and despite elite disdain for—and sometimes governmental censure of—Vodou, his father passed down to him the faith’s drumming tradition. In Vodou, which syncretizes West African, Catholic, and native Taïno and Arawak theologies, ceremonial drumming and song anchor the religious rites that restore balance to the world. Through Boukman Eksperyans, Lòlò and Manzè Beaubrun—herself a respected scholar noted for her published work on both Vodou and the Haitian communal culture of lakou—use this music “to tell Haitian people to be proud of their culture,” and to universalize the call for community and connection.

The current incarnation of Boukman Eksperyans tours the world with ten musicians and two dancers, featuring leading Haitian artists including Lòlò’s cousin, the drummer Hans “Bwa Gris” Dominique; bassist Donnier Mondesir; and professor of dance Johanne Dejean. Band members also play traditional African drums, a metallic scraper known as a krai, and a Haitian bamboo flute called the vaksin. They sing primarily in Kreyol.

Boukman Eksperyans has rebuffed appeals from politicians and political parties; instead, as Beaubrun says, “We are there as the voice of the people.” In 1990, their anthem “Ke-M Pa Sote” was named best song at Port-Au-Prince’s Carnival; its lyrics (“my heart doesn’t leap, you don’t scare me”) were embraced as a rebuke of dictatorial and corrupt politicians. Despite periods of political repression and even a brief exile, Boukman Eksperyans continues to issue a rallying cry against the ills imposed upon the Haitian people, and indeed people everywhere, providing through their joyous music the inspiration for a future with “love as the base.”

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