Jan Sebon’s Creative Exchange in Haiti

Jan Sebon, Artistic Director of Kazak International, is a Haitian American musician based in Miami, Florida. He and his daughter Inez Barlatier, also a company member, traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti in July 2010 to conduct a three week Creative Exchange residency through NPN’s Performing Americas Program. The artists worked with Lekol Bazilo, an orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, with whom they developed a project to work with the children:  to teach them traditional African songs and drumming, to reflect on what it meant to return to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, and to write their own music.

An organization called Kay Fanm funds the orphanage, which works with children who lost both of their parents in the earthquake. Kay Fanm arranged for the artists to be hosted with local families at Lakou Ginen, a yard in Port-au-Prince where the orphanage is located. Sebon reported that in spite of the conditions of the community, which has extremely limited access to water and electricity, they were embraced with amazing hospitality.

It had been five years since Sebon had visited Haiti, and many of his family members feared for him and his daughter when they announced their trip. It was important for them, he says, because it allowed them to reconnect with their roots in a way that is directly connected to their music, and that also speaks to a larger issue of quality of life and resistance in the face of disaster. Watching people who have suffered so much enjoying the small things was a huge lesson for them.

“They told us a lot of different earthquake stories, both sad and laughable. We learned from laughter in Haitian culture that it is better to move on instead of dwelling on the bad times.” Sebon said he felt that they needed more than a cultural exchange – beds, benches, food and a roof over their heads – however, they were able to teach them traditional African songs and dances that are core to Kazak International’s work as musicians and dancers.  Inez also taught them some moves from American Step Dance.  In exchange, the children taught them Rasin and Haitian Roots music.  A local drummer, Sanba Zao, taught the company new drumming techniques and sparked ideas for future collaborations, and they were able to learn new rhythms and guitar styles.

Most importantly though, they spent a lot of time with the children, teaching and playing games and sharing with them.  “We were already passionate about Haitian culture but the exchange gave us the opportunity to meet Haitian families and artists, and now the traditional music that we learned in Haiti will be incorporated into our sound for future projects.”

“The company is thinking of new projects that focus on the reality of the situation in Haiti.  We must find new ways to motivate our friends and others to help bring change in Haiti.   Our music is political.  Many have said to us that if we were living in Haiti, we would not survive the repressions of performing our political music.”

Planning the residency was challenging because of the very unreliable state of telephone and internet communications, but was made possible by the pooling of resources of many organizations on both sides.  Kazak International’s Creative Exchange to Haiti was supported in the U.S. by NPN’s Performing Americas Program and NPN Partner Tigertail Productions (www.tigertail.org) of Miami, Florida, which has also supported Jan Sebon’s work through the NPN Creation Fund.

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