During November and December 2017, I will be in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, participating in this year's Ghetto Biennale.
At the last two Ghetto Biennales, I have produced purely visual works. Amongst a variety of inspirations, the decision to create something sonic reflects a major shift in my practice from fine art to music. As well as this, and more importantly, the one phenomena that has left me increasingly moved each time I’ve travelled to Port- au-Prince is music. In the city it’s everywhere and it’s diverse, and in its omnipresence leaks into visual culture; from paintings of musicians on busses, to vast handmade sound-systems. Perhaps this is an easy thing to say for visitor to a country poorer than his own, but Port-au-Prince seems to me utterly rhythmic. In its informality and its anarchy, rhythm is present. Whether those rhythms are causes or products of the city’s complex infrastructure, I feel them as necessary to its vitality. Cringingly, it is often said by visitors like myself to cities similar to PAP that there’s something musical about its chaos; and of course this is usually a lazy and meaningless remark, a bit like when visitors to Brixton describe it as colourful. Yet, the vast and distinct range of genres native to Haiti; the looseness of people’s bodies and they’re resultant ability to dance; the processions of Rara bands; the blaring speakers of public busses; the relentless pulse of voodoo ceremonies; the hisses of hailing for publiks; the sounds of twoubadou bands from clubs; choirs from open-air churches early on Sunday morning; and of course the traffic — I find it hard not to think of the sum of these qualities as a deep, challenging rhythm. All of these aspects, and so many more, compose a city that’s complex and difficult and so very alive. Navigating it is impossible without engaging whole-heartedly with its fluid, inconsistent musicality. Needless to say, this music is the product of stories. The chaotic rhythms I talk about are one and the same as the complex, criss-crossing assemblage of narratives constantly unfolding throughout the city.
I am aware of the danger I am stepping into by talking about the city like this. It is, after all, a shockingly tough place to live for most of its inhabitants. Most of my friends in Haiti would simply prefer not to live in Haiti, and would never dream of their lives in Port-au-Prince as the dance that I am alluding to it being. But, in the same way that I’ll never be Haitian, I cannot avoid reacting to the place as an outsider.
Practically, my intention is to translate my own writing and musical compositions into something new by working with local musicians. Most of the music I compose has chaotic subject matter, which pertains to being a citizen of a socio-political landscape which is complicated, sinister and obscure, as well as lots of other contradictory things — it is an emotional reaction to existing. I think that music is a very difficult thing to bring to Haiti, mostly because they have it already. In the past I’ve watched nervously as foreign music has been played in Gran Ru, and met mostly by bemusement. Obviously, the aim of participating in the GB isn’t simply to make the local community impressed enough to want to dance — if it was, a DJ set of Konpa tunes would suffice. The the stories I write, relative to my songs, are slightly narrower in their focus. Without being didactic, their themes are more obvious. However, both the music and the written stories touch upon sexuality, gender and class. Haiti's official attitude towards homosexuality and transsexuality is unsympathetic, and a Russian style law was proposed in August 2017 that would ban any promotion of either. Alongside, working with musicians, I will be working with translators to create a Kreyòl version of a recent piece of writing, which relates to these themes. There will be two evening readings of the story during the Biennale — one in Kreyòl, and one in English.
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