BRATTLEBORO—The art and performance venue 118 Elliot presents “Haiti Alive,” a Haitian Gede Lwa, or Day of the Dead, celebration featuring traditional music by Ayizan and Azouke Sanon, a dance performance choreographed by Julio Jean, a costume party, and refreshments, on Saturday, Nov. 5, at 8 p.m.
All ticket sales and fundraising from the event will go to Haitian relief efforts. Venue owners Lissa Weinmann and John Loggia are producing the event, including underwriting the cost of bringing the artists to Brattleboro. They are asking for attendees to donate $20 for Hurricane Relief, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. Donations will go to Partners in Health hurricane relief program (www.pih.org/blog/loss-beyond-measure-in-southern-haiti).
“This is the first benefit we’re producing, organizing, and financing,” Loggia said. “We’re personally paying the band, who are professional musicians, so all money can go to Haiti.”
“The tradition of All Souls Day in Haiti is a month-long celebration,” he continued. “It’s honoring the dead, a cultural celebration of Gede Lwa, and the event will recreate this. People are encouraged to wear costumes."
Haitian dance master
The dance performance will have four dancers, led and choreographed by dancer, choreographer, musician, and composer, Julio Jean, whom Loggia describes as “a renowned master Haitian dance teacher... with 20 years of experience... blend[ing] traditional Haitian forms with modern and contemporary dance to create compelling movement narratives.”
Jean studied with Lavinia Williams, a company member of Katherine Dunham, at the National School of Arts in Haiti. In 1989, Jean moved to New York City and worked with Katherine Dunham teaching traditional Haitian dance. He has taught workshops and classes around the country.
The musical performance features brothers Ayizan and Azouke Sanon, who have been performing together since the 1970s.
“The brothers were involved in the formation of the groups Foula and Sanba Yo. The music they played was a fusion of traditional music, jazz, and folk/rock,” Loggia said. “Since leaving Haiti, they have continued their work in the U.S., primarily in New York, where they created a group called Vodoule.” Loggia noted that he met and played music with the Sanon brothers in New York in the early 1990s.
Weinmann and Loggia had already booked the show before Hurricane Matthew brought the latest in a series of disasters to the island nation.
“Even before this recent catastrophe, we were looking at the show as a way to celebrate Haitian culture’s truly unique take on life and death as well as to support Haitian performers who are immigrants struggling to help family and friends back home,” Loggia said.
Litany of hardships
Loggia detailed the long history of violence — man-made and weather-related — faced by Haiti and its people, beginning with the European colonization of the island, which annihilated nearly all the native Taino and Carib peoples within 50 years of Columbus’ arrival.
“Over 10 million people live in a degraded environment that can hardly support its population in better times. Climate change, deforestation, pollution, lack of clean water, nonexistent or degraded infrastructure magnify the destruction,” Loggia said. “Corrupt and failed relief efforts exacerbate the human toll.
“After the earthquake, the U.N. accidentally brought cholera to Haiti during its relief efforts, a health calamity that is being compounded by the flooding from [Hurricane] Matthew and the failure of sewer and water systems,” Loggia said.
Making matters worse is the ethnic cleansing efforts from Haiti’s island neighbors, the Dominican Republic. Dominicans of Haitian descent who were born to undocumented parents since 1929 are no longer considered nationals, according to a September 2013 ruling by the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic. Stripped of their citizenship — and often rounded up for being “too dark” — these Dominicans are sent over the border to Haiti, where they have no citizenship or contacts, thus leaving thousands without a country or support.
“Haiti has been dealt a very raw hand,” Loggia said. “The island can’t support the number of people there even in good conditions. They can’t recover from each critical crisis."
Due to claims of extreme mismanagement of past disaster aid committed by a variety of organizations, including the Red Cross, Loggia said the Haitian government is taking matters into its own hands by accepting direct donations and mobilizing its own relief efforts.
“Over the next couple of weeks we will identify the organizations doing the best work,” Loggia said, noting he is in contact with the Haitian embassy and is actively gathering information on where to send the money.
Meanwhile, Loggia invites the public to 118 Elliot for a night of Haitian music, dance, “and food!"
“We’re having an event. It makes it easy for people to contribute to Haiti,” Loggia said. “And it’s a party, too.”