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Boukman Esperyans

BOUKMAN ESPERYANS


Formed: mid-1980s, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Members: Daniel Beaubrun, lead and backup vocals, lead guitar, bass, drum programming; Theodore "Lolo" Beaubrun Jr., lead and backup vocals, keyboards, piano, tambou; Mimerose "Mize" Beaubrun, lead and backup vocals; Marjorie Beaubrun, backup vocals; Eddy "Samba Agua" Francois, lead and backup vocals, rhythm guitar, bass; Evens Seney, backup vocals, maman toubou (lead mother drum); Gary Seney, backup vocals, tambou, kata, percussion; Frantz "Ti Crabe" Seney, backup vocals, percussion; Patrick St. Val-Demorcy, backup vocals, percussion; Henry Bernard D, backup vocals, katabou, percussion; Maggy Jn-Louis, backup vocals.

Genre: World

Best-selling record since 1990: Vodou Adjae (1991)

Hit songs since 1990: "Ke'-m Pa Sote," "Wet Chenn," "Kalfou Danjare"

The brothers Theodore, known as "Lolo," and Daniel Beaubrun were raised as members of the Protestant elite in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. During their childhood their mother separated from their father, a satirical comic who headed the National Theatre in Haiti and who introduced his sons to the music of James Brown. They went to live with her in Brooklyn, New York, where they heard soul and rock and roll hits, including the music of Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, and Bob Marley on the radio.

In 1978 Lolo and his wife, Mimerose Beaubrun, an anthropologist, joined a Haitian "lakou," a commune organized around a central courtyard after an African model, in order to investigate their cultural and spiritual roots. Their search led them to the vodou religion, long an opposition force to the dominant Catholic Church and oligarchic government of Haiti, and they began leading a drum ensemble in local performances. With Daniel adding rock and roll elements (foremost, electric guitar lines), Even Seney at the center of the percussion section, and Eddie Francois as the charismatic lead singer, they named themselves after Boukman Dutty, a legendary Jamaican-born vodou priest who fought for Creole freedom from French colonialism and slavery in the revolution of 1804.

Minidaz bands, spurring a "roots-music-fusion" movement, were then on the rise in Haiti, along with rara groups, bands of men blowing one-pitch wooden or metal vaskins. They asserted the raw music of freed slaves against the frothy "compas" dance style favored by the Duvalier family dictatorship that had governed Haiti for some thirty years. However, roots bands ignored pressing social issues in their lyrics, a failing Lolo corrected. His song "Wett Chenn" ("Remove the Chains") won the third Konkou Mizik (Pop Music Competition) in 1989 with the words "Get angry . . . break the chains that keep us from uniting . . . ever since Africa we've been suffering / it's so much harder here. . . ."

Boukman Experyans's songs were banned from Haitian radio but were broadcast on pirate stations and disseminated via self-recorded cassettes. Their second enormous hit, "Ke'-m pa sote" ("My heart doesn't leap / I'm not afraid") (1990), challenged the Duvalier government outright with music drawn from a chant to the vodou war god. They won the year's competition at Carnival, only the second Carnival celebration the government had allowed since 1985, and "Ke'-m pa sote" became an anthem of the presidential campaign by professed reformer Jean-Bertrand Aristide; Boukman performed at his inauguration in 1991. But by the end of 1990, Francois, Seney, and guitarist Vladimir (Jimmy) Jean-Felix left the Beaubruns to form their own mizik rasin group, Boukan Ginen.

In 1991 Boukman Esperyans released the album Vodou Adjae, a collection of its competition-winning songs. Its title was the name given the band's dance style, borrowed from a temple dance following a vodou ritual. The band toured the United States, but their success was hampered at home by the resurgence of the brutal Haitian military after a coup deposing Aristide. At one concert in Haiti, Lolo was stopped by soldiers from singing the forbidden title track of Boukman's Grammy-nominated album Kalfou Danjare ("Dangerous Crossroads"; 1992); when the audience members began to sing the song, they were bombarded with tear-gas. Though Boukman's popularity afforded the band members some protection from the violence taking hold of their society, they were affected by the American embargo imposed on Haiti and the death of their bassist, Oliche Lynch, whose emergency medications for meningitis mysteriously went missing at the Port-au-Prince airport.

In the summer of 1994 Boukman Experyans embarked on a European tour but were denied permission to perform as scheduled in the United States because of new visa restrictions. They were not allowed to return to Haiti, either, and so took refuge in Jamaica, where they eventually obtained legal status and produced a third album, Liberté (Pran Pou'l!) / Liberty (Let's Take It!), at Bob Marley's Tuff Gong studio in Kingston. After resecuring Haitian residence, they recorded the album Revolution in the New Jersey studio of the rock band the Fugees, with repertoire incorporating, for the first time, English lyrics and Japanese folk melodies.

Some reviewers contend that Boukman Espyeryans have lost their spark, but other critics wrote glowingly of the band's late 1990s performance at Fete de Piyan. One critic noted Beaubrun's devotion to twin goals: "to reinstate Haitian culture and to resist the waves of politically motivated, anti-Haitian propaganda." The band continues to reach out, adapting Jamaican reggae bass lines and American funk guitar fills.

SELECTIVE DISCOGRAPHY:

Vodou Adjae (Mango, 1991); Kalfou Danjare (Mango, 1992); Liberté (Pran Pou'l!) / Liberty (Let's Take It!) (Island, 1995); Revolution (Lightyear, 1999); Live at Red Rocks (Lightyear, 1999); Kanaval Rasin-Vodou Adja (TropicSimbi, 2000).

howard mandel

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