Page 173 of 174

Haitian Rara

I wasn’t planning on posting about Haiti again so soon, but I referred to the Haitian rara processionals last week and thought you might like to know a little more about it.  It’s quite interesting.  As always, full documentation available on request.

The culture of the impoverished dark-skinned Haitian majority has thrived, and in its own way has carved out a rich cultural niche which has blended African, European, and native elements.  This has produced a society with syncretic religious and musical traditions from the Carnival rara songs to the hip and trendy nouvel jenerayson.    These many different musical styles have given them an outlet of political expression which would not likely be otherwise possible.   

Perhaps no musical style has emboldened and influenced this poor majority of Haiti more than rara.  Rara music is a diverse palette of rhythms and lyrics passed down through generations.  The rara festival kicks off after lent when the Carnival season in other Caribbean countries is coming to an end.  The rara processionals consist of competing groups of musicians who parade around incessantly, drawing in active participants who gladly join the fray.  This time of year gives the urban poor an extremely important outlet for social criticism.  McAlister refers to rara as a type of “performative orality” which is a complex combination of “verbal wordsmithing, displays of masculinity, and competitive performances of dance and music, all growing out of a religious core” (7).  The organic and grassroots nature of rara cultivates a commonality amongst the poor majority of Haiti.  They may not have political or economic clout, but they have a cultural force in the rara festival which enables them in their own way to remember their tragic past while cultivating hope that someday social justice may be achieved. 

Certain communal aspects of rara make it a powerful force which gives people a sense of belonging even while each musical group goes to great lengths to best the local rara competition.  During the colonial time period when African slaves were used as plantation labor, there would be little opportunity for expressiveness and creativity, so music was one area in which slaves could express themselves; this in turn helped make music one of the most dynamic aspect of Caribbean culture (Manuel).  The many slave communities brought together individuals from various African regions and ethnic groups which then enabled the various music styles and backgrounds to blend together in a unique syncretic way.  One of the characteristics of African music is the way it incorporates collective participation in such a way that the performers and audience seem to blend together (Manuel).  The rara festival is a unique example of this African feature.  McAlister writes of the rara processional that the “distinction between audience and performer is erased as soon as it is constructed” (6).  The audience does not passively watch a performance; they actively join in the dance and sing the songs and become part of the event themselves.   This communal approach to music is a powerful societal force which binds together the poor majority in a glorious strand of Haitian identity – one in which makes society’s elite uncomfortable to say the least. This is perhaps where rara music makes its biggest impact; it has become a method of social criticism even when social criticism isn’t allowed.

The elite of Haitian society have long dismissed rara as a vulgar rural Carnival (Manuel), perpetuated by low-class, uneducated poor. But in rara, the masses have a powerful voice of creativity which can target social ills and address abuses in ways which would not be possible through more traditional means of redress.   McAlister acknowledges rara on one hand to be a nod to Haiti’s tragic past while at the same time being a means for current political and societal issues to rise to the surface.  Behind the cryptic language and religious rituals, the tragic past of the indigenous Taino people is laid bare (McAlister). 

Road Less Traveled Dramatic Sketches Now on KINDLE!

I just published on the KINDLE the seven original dramatic sketches that our group the RLT Players have been performing.

These are great for schools, youth groups, churches, & other drama groups who like to perform low-prep, set-free drama productions which are really fun but ultimately meaningful.

They are available for only $1.00.  What a deal!  Please pass this along to anyone who likes drama or wants to go down the road less traveled.

Here’s a brief synopsis of each skit.  The starred ones can be read in their entirety on this blog.  Thanks everyone!

Sketch 1: “A Walk with Robert & Frost” – Traveling companions Robert and Frost the Polar Bear come across two paths which diverge in the woods.
***Sketch 2: “Almighty Might” – A man stands quietly in front of the gate to the presidential palace waiting for a revolution to come.
Sketch 3: “Tutti Fruitti” – Durian and her buddy Jackfruit have to endure the prideful taunts of Mango.
Sketch 4: “Wisdom Builds a House (Folly Destroys It)” – Based on Proverbs 9, Wisdom invites the whole city to her banquet at her grand house on the hill, but Folly has other plans for the night.
***Sketch 5: “(Traffic Jam on) A Highway More Taken” – A strange phenomenon called Traveler Indifference comes over the nation’s citizens who suddenly stop everything they have been doing. Two TV newscasters investigate.
Sketch 6: “Take Me to Your Ruler” – Turmoil erupts in the Kingdom of Stationary as Clip delivers a threat to Ruler from Meter Stick of the Democratic Republic of Office Supplies. Lined Paper and Duct Tape try to save the day.
Sketch 7: “Walk” Explore the different walks of the Hipster, the Ants, the Despair Walker & the Sacrificial Walker

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Less-Traveled-Performance-ebook/dp/B006V030ZU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1326094874&sr=8-1

The Monologue of Nicholas Stewart

In our new soon-to-be-released play “Life with Stewart”, Nicholas Stewart, an aged Hollywood movie star, is asked to deliver again his famous speech as the unforgettable protagonist Wellesly Green from the movie “Surrender has no Tomorrow”. (Of course, all of this is fictional.)  So imagine a staggering figure clad in battle gear trying to rally his comrades to continue fighting against insurmountable odds in order to stave off certain death. Here is the monologue in its entirety.  I’d appreciate your feedback.

NICHOLAS STEWART:

Character.  That is what stands between us and our destiny.  Each of us has sacrificed much to arrive at this point; the battered souls we are would give up the fight if it was merely up to us. If we were only flesh and blood, only here and now, only eyes and ears, surely we would not insist on pushing forward. For our eyes witness odds that our hearts cannot derive courage from.  Our ears hear not any reassurance to continue fighting, but only weakness and bickering, coming from our tired, cowardly jaws –  the ones we earned by witnessing too much death and experiencing too much despair.  Yes, our eyes and ears reveal how human we have become, how cold our flesh feels, and how much colder our blood may soon be.  But history reminds us that we are not only flesh and blood.  We are not only here and now.  We are not only eyes and ears.  We are made of more, much more.  Time has poured its tired hands into our being, strengthening us with wisdom gleamed from a thousand souls who came before us.  Those who knew us and loved us.  Those we never knew but influenced the mechanisms of support that we have come to live by.  Our character has been built by the sacrifices of these and others who lived their lives and suffered their deaths for our survival. If we extinguish the flickering flame of hope that the winds of fear are ferociously trying to snuff out, then we are not worthy to be called the sons or daughters of the ones that came before us.  As the poet Asophie said, “When a pebble dropped in a vast sea splashes beyond its capacity, crashing barriers that were never meant to be crossed, all that one is left with is the realization that the pebble was no small stone and the causality is no one’s fault but your own.”  If we die, then we shall be at fault.  If we live, then we too shall be the cause of that.  As for me, I choose life.  What choose you?

Stalin – the Little Boy

I’m a student of history as many of you know.  I came across this essay I wrote a while back about a little boy called Soso whom the world would eventually know as Joseph Stalin.  I’ll post more later, but I thought you might find this short paragraph to be of interest.  (Full documentation available on request.)

“Stalin was born Joseph Dzhughashvili.  His mother was a devout Orthodox Christian and his father was a cobbler easily taken to drink and violence.  Young Soso, as he was known in his younger years, felt firsthand the wanton brutality of his father’s drunken rages.  He also witnessed the terror that his father held over his mother.  But his father was not the only one who beat him.  His mother also would beat him mercilessly for insolence and disobedience which were frequent character traits of the bitter and difficult young boy (Radzinsky).  In fact the violence that he experienced early in life was a mere foretaste of the life that little Soso was to lead.  He may have had to endure the beatings of his childhood, but he eventually would not allow anyone to get the better of him.  He would back down to no one.”

A Word about Haiti

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.” 

2012 Writing Plans

Here’s a run-down of some different writing projects I currently have on my plate for 2012.

My first novel Beauty Rising remains unpublished as I continue to search for a publisher for it.  I have no plans to self-publish it at this time.  More on this later.

My most recent play Life with Stewart which I wrote in collaboration with five young writers is just about ready to be released.  Should be out soon.  I’ll post a synopsis and excerpt later. It’s going to be a blast to produce. This one deserves the novel treatment, too.   Hmmmm . . .

Also, I will be releasing my RLT Players dramatic sketches in eBook format sometime in January.  It will be entitled: “The Road Less Traveled: Dramatic Sketches for Performance & Ponder.”   Keep an eye out for it.

I’ve started my second novel quite unexpectedly about a recluse storyteller. It’s a complicated maze of four stories intersecting with a fifth which holds it all together (I hope!). I have a third novel which has been hanging out on the sidelines of my writing life for the past few years.  It’s ready to go as soon as I have time.

Finally, I’ll be working on another set of dramatic sketches for the RLT Players.  I already have many fun ideas.  This is my summer project for 2012.

Lots to do!  However, I’m always open to new ideas and fresh collaboration.  Anyone?

 

Writing Excerpts

I will post some writing excerpts from time to time.  They will be listed under PAGES to the right.  I would very much appreciate your comments concerning these.

Check out “Almighty Might”  and “A Highway More Taken” which are both original RLT Players dramatic sketches.  I’ve also posted the first three chapters of “Spy Blue: A Novella.”  Thanks.

Thank the Artists

Before anything else can be said on this blog, I must thank the amazing artists who have used their talents to adorn the covers of much of my writing.

Ji-Hyun Park – Spy Blue

Wan-Leen Siow & K. Wiebe – Take Two

Sophie Shin – A Tad of Trouble

Jacqueline Ashkin – The RLT Players logo

And I just received the artwork draft from Jennifer Park for our new play “Life with Stewart.”  Wow!  It’s amazing.  I’ll post it soon.

Thank you!  I’d be lost without your talents.