Jazzfest Spotlight on Haiti

By: Susanne Hackett

It’s Jazzfest season in New Orleans, and this year’s festival hosts the largest celebration of Haitian culture in the U.S. since the devastating earthquake one year ago.  New Orleans and Haiti have shared a deep cultural connection for over 300 years and many local traditions and customs have roots in this complex Caribbean country. In the years following the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), a wave of immigrants from the island nearly doubled the population of New Orleans, bringing with them a unique blend of African and French cultures.

Some highlights of the fest include traditional Vodou drumming performances, craft demonstrations led by visiting master artisans, and rara band DJA-Rara (pictured above) parading throughout the Fair Grounds.  This past weekend, I sat in on a fascinating series of panel discussions in the Folklife Village that explored various aspects of the Haiti-New Orleans connection. Local and invited luminaries and scholars such as folklorist Nick Spitzer,  Vodou priestess Mama Lola, and musician Sunpie Barnes spoke on a range of topics, including the similarities between second line street parades in New Orleans and rara in Haiti, the relationship between Voodoo and Vodou, and parallels in art and architecture.  Descendants of the original Haitian immigrants, many of who became prominent New Orleans families, shared oral histories passed down through the generations.

Jazzfest picks up again today and runs through Sunday, May 8. For more information on the musical lineup, check out lineup.nojazzfest.com.