Haiti Part 5: Festival Mizik Jakmel Update

Although Festival Mizik Jakmel, with headliners Stephen and Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley did not make it into Gadling’s Massively Huge 2007 Summer Music Fest Roundup, I mentioned the first-time event not long before I took a trip over to check it out on my own. Actually, at the time I booked my ticket to Haiti I hadn’t planned on attending the three-day music festival because I hadn’t heard of it. I was simply planning on going to explore culture, arts, food and beaches. When I found out the festival and my travel dates linked up, it made my trip plans all the better.

As noted before the festival would not only involve a slew of musicians from across the globe singing around the clock, there would also be art events, workshops, a tourism conference, and most importantly an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the largest drumming ensemble in the world. (India got the claim to fame last year.) If you ask me – that is one mega feat to beat. And by now you are probably wondering if their mission was accomplished?

To answer the question: Yes and No.

I haven’t the slightest idea what happened to the drum ensemble and I was a little disappointed that it didn’t occur. My hopes were flying high and my heart-racing every time I heard that the drumming would start. I tried to imagine Congo beach packed with 10,000 drumming sets of hands, but even my imagination failed me. There were a number of people who shared the same somber feeling as I had, but with all of the other events to look forward to there was little room or time to stay disappointed long.

The concert line-up for the first day included some amazing musicians such as Mizik Mizik featuring Belo and Tifane, Reggae Cowboys, Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes and one of my favorites, Les Nubians. The only problem now was figuring out what time they were going to go on. No one in my camp seemed to have an idea of when the DJ would cut his music and let the real live show start. To kill time we walked around Congo beach for a while. There were tons of people hanging around making puppets dance for the amusement of others and others just standing and waiting. From the stage and screen set-up you could tell they were expecting a packed sandy beach. By the end of night number one I wouldn’t have been the one to tell you whether the masses came out in full force or not. You’d have to ask another festival participant. With it being the first international music festival ever for the area of Jacmel I figured there would be some minor bumps and road blocks in the way, but performances kept getting pushed back. There was no telling when anything would happen and having just arrived to the country overnight from LAX to PAP, I was beat. As badly as I wanted to check every little detail of the festival out I found myself retreating for some rest.

Day two was much better and as it turned out the people that stayed long enough on day one really enjoyed the performances. I wish I had been one of them.

When we finally arrived for the second installment the music was in full-swing and the beach looked at least 7,000 people deep. It had been raining on and off the entire day, but even the wet weather couldn’t keep people from seeing such performers as Emeline Michel, Tabou Combo & Black Alex, RAM and especially Stephen / Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley. I was fortunate enough to score some standing room in VIP and made my way up to see portions of most of the performances. It being my first time hearing of many of he Haitian artists, my ears were busier than ever trying to focus in on it all. I listened like a student in a Haitian Music and Kompa 101 class.

RAM was one of the artists that really caught my attention. The music seemed very trippy and can be described as “Vodou rock n’ roots.” Following RAM was Emeline Michel, whose music I had heard before on a few compilation CD’s. The masses really enjoyed her music as well as all the major Haitian bands that went on and it wasn’t until the Marley brothers finally came on stage did I notice a slight difference in crowd participation. I went ablaze inside myself. I was so hyped on seeing them and the setting was perfect. Naturally, everyone moved and sang along to the Bob Marley covers as performed by son Stephen Marley, but there were times when I thought the people could be moving more. It was partly the language and the awe of having the Marley brothers in Haiti that had the crowd standing still at certain moments noted my travel buds.

Even with the language barrier I could still sense the music working. It managed to bring a massive number of Haitians, tourists, and sponsors to Congo beach for two nights in a row thus far and the Marley’s reinforced the theory with their messaging, “We are all one people.”

When the show was over that night I headed back to the Hotel Cyvadier to rest my eyes and sing Festival Mizik Jakmel lullabies.

Day three was all washed up from what I gather. The rain wasn’t letting up and performances were cancelled. I departed Jacmel earlier than planned for Port-au-Prince. I could be wrong about day three and I would love to be corrected if I am. Overall I thought it was a success for a free event and with everything that did and didn’t happen it gives everyone that showed up and those who couldn’t make it something to look forward to next year.

It’s faint right now, but I think I hear 10,000 sets of drumming hands on Congo plage. To view more pictures from the festival check out the Festival Mizik Jakmel Flickr photostream.

Yesterday: Art & Souvenirs
Tomorrow: A Few Last Words