Music News
4:21 am
Sun February 17, 2013

Haitian Musicians Get By With A Little Help From Their Friends

Originally published on Tue February 19, 2013 8:23 am

A rapper who goes by the name Bricks stands in an empty lot on ceramic tiles that used to be his bedroom floor. In 2010, the earthquake that destroyed much of Port-au-Prince also wrecked his house and recording studio. Bricks was home when the quake struck, and says that in that moment, music literally saved his life.

"The head of the bed and a pile of CDs kept the roof from flattening me," Bricks explains in Creole. "The CDs that we just made, and the headboard, actually held up the roof so it didn't fall on me."

Bricks, whose real name is Sermevil Edner, was part of the popular rap group Barikad Crew, and still performs with another called Majik Click. He says that for many years, Haitian musicians criticized politicians for corruption and inaction. Now, however, their lyrics often focus on natural disasters.

Elsewhere in Port-au-Prince, outside a small makeshift studio at a space rented from an elementary school, Ian Evans waits for some young rappers to stop recording. The western Massachusetts native is a musician and record producer who co-founded the nonprofit Konbit (pronounced "cone-beet") Mizik, which roughly translates as Co-op Music.

"The artists can come and record music, collaborate, get the reality of their lives onto recording," Evans says. "It's a place where they can play music and get the stress out."

Evans was doing aid work in Port-au-Prince until earlier this year. But he kept meeting talented young rappers and musicians with no outlet for work, since most of the city's recording studios had been destroyed by the earthquake. So he and New York videographer Nick Cannel formed Konbit Mizik as a way to get the music recorded and distributed online through iTunes and similar networks.

"Haitians have used music in the recovery from the earthquake in the same way that music has been used here forever," Evans says. "Music allows the artists to look around themselves, take all the negative and turn the negative into a positive."

Evans and Cannel pay all expenses out of pocket and through benefit concerts; they've applied for nonprofit status in order to get foundation funding. Evans says the recordings have earned some money for the musicians, who keep all the royalties.

One of them is singer and songwriter Amos Dolce. Konbit Mizik recorded his song "Haiti, Haiti," and made a video, which played on local TV. Dolce says that as a result, he started getting steady work at a restaurant that survived the earthquake.

"I used to play here before and they stopped calling me," Dolce says. "After they saw the video, they said, 'Oh, he's at a new level. Let's call him back again.'"

Dolce says the 2010 earthquake, and this year's Hurricane Issac, inspired him to write " Haiti, Haiti." He doesn't want Haitians to be seen only as victims.

"Before the quake, things were not so great in Haiti," he says. "After, it was like a big blow to someone already down. Those lyrics were for people to pick themselves up, and for their love of Haiti."

Haiti's musicians face the same problems as everyone else on the island: sporadic electricity and running water, lack of housing and poverty-level incomes. Dolce says Haiti has suffered a lot in the past several years.

"When you're in a path you may fall, but you can always get up," he says. "It's in the getting up that that there is hope. Haiti may fall, but we do hope. And we know that we will always rise again. And in the rising there is hope."

Dolce and his fellow musicians firmly believe that Haiti's long tradition of music can help their country's recovery — with a little help from their friends.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's been three years since a massive earthquake struck Haiti, killing roughly 200,000 people and leaving more than a million homeless. In that time, the Caribbean nation has also suffered through two deadly hurricanes. The tragedies have inspired some of the country's musicians to create songs of hope, with the help of two U.S. producers.

Reese Erlich was in Port-au-Prince and he brings us this story.

REESE ERLICH, BYLINE: A rapper who goes by the name Bricks stands in an empty lot on ceramic tiles that used to be his bedroom floor. In 2010, the earthquake that destroyed much of Port-au-Prince also wrecked his house and studio.

BRICKS: (Through Translator) The head of the bed and a pile of CDs kept the roof from flattening me. The CDs that we just made and the headboard actually held up the roof so it didn't fall on me.

ERLICH: So literally, music saved your life?

BRICKS: Exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

ERLICH: Bricks, whose real name is Sermevil Edner, was part of the popular rap group Barikad Crew and still performs with another called Majik Click. He says that for many years Haitian musicians criticized politicians for corruption and inaction. Now, however, their lyrics often focus on natural disasters. Bricks wrote this rap called "Stop."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STOP")

BRICKS: (Rapping) Let's put a stop to it. (Singing in foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through Translator) Stop, stop all the problems. Kids can't go to school. Kids can't eat. Stop.

BRICKS: (Singing) Stop. Now you're going to stop...

ERLICH: Outside a small makeshift studio located in rented space at a Port-au-Prince elementary school, Ian Evans waits for some young rappers to stop recording.

(SOUNDBITE OF RAPPING)

ERLICH: The western Massachusetts native is a musician and record producer who co-founded the non-profit Konbit Mizik, which roughly translates as Co-op Music.

IAN EVANS: This is our studio in Delmas 31. The artists can come and record music, can record music, and come together and collaborate; can get the reality of their lives onto recording. And as well, a place where can come and just play music and get the stress out.

ERLICH: Evans was doing aid work in Port-au-Prince until earlier this year. But he kept meeting talented young rappers and musicians with no outlet because most of the city's recording studios had been destroyed by the earthquake. So he and New York videographer Nick Cannel formed Konbit Mizik as a way to get the music recorded and distributed online, through iTunes and similar networks.

EVANS: Haitians have used music in the recovery from the earthquake in the same way that music has been used here forever. Music allows the artists to look around themselves and take all of the negative and turn the negative into a positive.

ERLICH: Evans and Cannel pay all expenses out of pocket and through benefit concerts. They've applied for non-profit status in order to get foundation funding. Evans says the recordings have earned some money for the musicians, who keep all the royalties. One of them is singer and songwriter Amos Dolce.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAITI, HAITI")

AMOS DOLCE: (Singing in foreign language)

ERLICH: Konbit Mizik recorded Dolce's tune "Haiti, Haiti "and made a video, which played on local TV. Dolce says, as a result, he started getting steady work here at a restaurant that survived the earthquake.

DOLCE: (Through Translator) I used to play here before. They had stopped calling me. So, after they saw the video they like, wow, maybe the artist is at a new level. Let's bring him back here again.

ERLICH: Dolce says the 2010 earthquake and this year's Hurricane Isaac inspired him to write "Haiti, Haiti. " He doesn't want Haitians to be seen only as victims.

DOLCE: (Through Translator) Before the earthquake, things were not that great in Haiti. After the earthquake, if was like a big blow to someone who had already been down. So those lyrics was to help people to pick themselves up and to get back into the love for Haiti.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAITI, HAITI")

DOLCE: (Singing in foreign language)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Through Translator) Haiti, Haiti, it's time for things to change. Haiti, Haiti, you have to stand up. Haiti, Haiti, it's time for things to change.

ERLICH: Haiti's musicians face the same problems as everyone else on the island: sporadic electricity and running water, lack of housing and poverty-level incomes. Dolce says Haiti has suffered a lot in the past several years.

DOLCE: (Through Translator) When you're in a path you may fall but you can always get up. And it's in the getting up that that there is hope. Haiti may always fall but we do and we know that we will always rise again. And in the rising that there is hope.

ERLICH: Dolce and his fellow musicians firmly believe that Haiti's long tradition of music can help their country's recovery, with a little help from their friends.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAITI, HAITI")

DOLCE: (Singing in foreign language)

ERLICH: For NPR News, I'm Reese Erlich.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HAITI, HAITI")

DOLCE: (Singing in foreign language)

MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.