THEY ARE EKSPERYANSED: The lights are down and the people in the crowd are linked with brittle, crackling wires of impatience and exchanged glances between anxious, excited eyes. The rumble of stomping feet starts to circle the stadium as the musical instruments sit silently on stage. The tension is so thick you could slice through it with a burp of machine gun bullets--at least that's what some of the soldiers ringing the stadium are thinking.
When the members of the group step on the stage in Port au Prince, the crowd roars its rebellious approval. As the band begins the concert with a vodou (a.k.a. Voodoo) ritual, the fingers on the triggers tighten. At any moment a sudden cloudburst of death could sprinkle the people in the crowd or the musicians.
Melodramatic? Sure. But it's a very real part of the history of Boukman Eksperyans, too. The Haitian group founded in 1978 by Theodore "Lolo" Beaubrun has lived and played through the terror of the infamous Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier dictatorship and the oppressors who followed him. Throughout those grim years and the few days of relative freedom when President Jean-Bertrand Aristide ruled (he has been returned to the presidency) they played their rara rock (rara comes from the vodou temples and is the traditional music of the annual festival climaxing with Easter Sunday). Their powerful, percussive songs about liberation and love symbolized freedom for many Haitians and have made the group the most popular in the small country overpopulated by the descendants of slaves, the Europeans who conquered the island and the indigenous people who lived there before the arrival of Columbus in 1492.
Their latest album, Libéte Pran Pou Pran´l! (Freedom Let's Take It!), steams with emphatic political and spiritual messages, exquisite harmonies, irresistible polyrhythms and sudden bolts of bright, searing guitar.
Today Aristide is back in a democratic form of power with the support of the U.S. government, but Lolo yearns for even more freedom in Haiti.
"It's better because you don't see the repression," he says in a voice with a heavy Creole accent flavored by the French who once ruled his homeland. "The army doesn't exist anymore and things are more cool. Yes, it's better, but we're not really satisfied. The deep change that we are waiting for, for the state to change completely and become more human, I don't see that coming to Haiti yet. Like we say it in the Vodou, when we respect principle, we respect all people. You respect yourself. The politicians don't respect principle."
He says he doesn't expect those deeper changes to come through political machinations, but through a spiritual movement propelled by the power and peace that comes with a belief in Vodou.
Most people in this country think of practitioners of vodou as doll-stabbing, spell-casting Demons who want to turn non-believers into zombies. Much of that false image of the religion comes from leaders of other faiths and the hyper-reality of Hollywood (Serpent and The Rainbow, for instance). Vodou is actually a blend of the Western and Central African religions brought to Haiti by slaves and the Catholicism practiced by the slaveowners.
"In Haiti, in the vodou, we say that Jesus is a pure Ginen (a righteous state of mind or state of being), so is Buddha, Mohammed, Moses--all Ginen," Beaubrun, a priest of vodou, explains. "(People who believe in vodou) are going toward the state of Ginen, where you find the totality of yourself.
"The music we play, the rhythms we play is coming directly from Vodou. The rhythms are connected with spirit and is connected with our bodies also."
He says the members of the group pray before they take a stage and each performance is, in part, a ceremony and celebration of vodou. Boukman Eksperyans effectively turns every platform they play on into a church.
"When we start the concert, it's a ceremony--it's something serious. Because in Haiti, many times we've been surrounded by the military, sometimes they shoot--we lived those things in Haiti. We'd see that they were afraid of the power of that music."
But don't get the wrong idea. When Boukman plays, they are serious about their music and religion, but they're also there to have fun.
"Fun and serious are connected," Beaubrun says. "We have fun on stage but it's a serious thing. It's a matter of life. It's an enjoy thing. Everybody is dancing like crazy, you see. Everything is connected together."
Experience the many facets of Boukman Eksperyans at the Southwest Center for Music, 2175 N. Sixth Ave., on Monday, September 11. Because it's a weekday night, the concert will start early (7:30 p.m.) and end early (9:30 p.m.), so you can be home and in bed, ready to face Tuesday with plenty of rest from your evening of dancing. There is no opening act and Boukman will play straight through without an intermission.
Tickets are $12 in advance. Call 623-1688 for more information.
LAST NOTES: The James King Band brings contemporary and traditional "high, lonesome" style of bluegrass from Virginia to the Santa Rita Park Inn Fiesta Room, 88 E. Broadway, on Thursday, September 7. Tickets are $9 in advance.
Reggae legends Black Uhuru pound The Rock, 136 N. Park Ave., on Friday, September 9, with their anthems and positive dance music. Tickets are $15 at the door.
The Radiators roll the same club on Wednesday, September 13, with a mix of New Orleans street music, boogie, blues, funk, rock and Dead-like jams. Tickets for this show are $8 at the door.
Dead Hot Workshop hits Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St., with the Bottle Rockets on Sunday, September 10. Tempe's Dead Hot may or may not have their long-awaited breakthrough with their 1001 album, but it's a fine album and they're starting to get lots of national attention. It should be a jammed show. Admission is just five bucks.
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