Recently, I did some research on Haitian ethnomusicology. (Don’t ask!) If you are interested in Haiti, you might like to read the following short excerpt from an essay I wrote about music’s impact on Haitian culture and history. This portion is about Haiti’s newest president who came to power in 2011. (Full documentation available on request.)
“In a remarkable turn of recent events, the masses have finally elected one of their own as president. In the aftermath of last year’s deadly earthquake which flattened the capital and killed in excess of 250,000, Haiti has perhaps experienced the most vivid example yet of how much music means to their cultural identity by electing as President a former carnival singer named Michel Martelly. As movie or sports stars find traction in political elections in the United States, their cultural counterpart in Haiti would be the musicians who have been piercing the political landscape with social criticism for decades. Martelly was an extremely popular Carnival singer who was known for outrageous outfits and obscene language during his shows, and he won the presidency in a run-off election in April 2011 by receiving a resounding 68% of the vote (Archibold). Even more recently, with the approval of the new Prime Minister, Martelly has set the stage for one of the most significant presidencies in Haiti for some time. He has the unenviable task of trying to jump-start economic growth in the midst of the daunting earthquake recovery effort which continues.
Of course, it is much too early to tell what a Martelly presidency will ultimately look like, but perhaps it will have the look and feel of a rara processional. Musicians have for decades used their rara Carnival songs to poke fun at the obscene to make people laugh. They have sung their songs as a way to raise their voice in subtle protest to the injustices around them. Perhaps no one knows the plight of the poor urban masses better than a Carnival singer. This may be Martelly’s greatest strength – identifying with the people that he represents. . . . And so now Martelly stands at the crossroads in Haiti, with a wealth of heart knowledge behind him, and the hope of the nation supporting him.”