We walked into S.O.B.’s in New York Monday night and saw Boukman Eksperyans getting ready to go onstage. Boukman blasted onto world stages and on Mango Records in the early 1990s with their soulful, joyful mizik rasin (roots) pop sound straight out of Haiti. We went right up front to find Lolo Beaubran, the band’s co-leader (along with his wife, Mimerose). There he was with his long dreadlocks longer, his goatee grayer, but the same playful smile. He proclaimed, “We’re still here.”
Boukman put on a crackling set of almost all new repertoire. If you saw them back in the day, one of the puzzling things was their choice to use a drum machine but no trap drums. No longer. The band has grown in size and sound with Lolo’s son on traps and a trio of percussionists playing brightly-painted, traditional Haitian drums. They have also added a keyboard player, but a tasteful one (not always the case in many bands!). And they had a couple of 20-something rappers who got their turns in the spotlight. I especially enjoyed their percussion jam.
Boukman opened with a beautiful, somber a capela song with the word “misere” in it. I assumed this was a prayer for all those lost in the tragic earthquake. I don’t speak Kreol, but I know that Boukman’s recurring themes are the celebration of the Haitian vodou spirit world and Lolo’s radical politics. Lolo’s performance style expresses both ecstasy and pain.
The mixed crowd of Haitian-Americans and hard core Boukman fans were feeling the spirit that night at S.O.B.’s. And when they struck up a song from their debut international release, Vodou Adjae (Mango, 1991), everyone cheered and shouted “Ayibobo!” (like “Amen!”) and jumped around the dance floor.
Check out Google to find out more about Boukman Eksperyans’ fascinating story, including its carnival song in 1990 that rallied people against the military regime. Boukman also played a key role in raising positive consciousness about vodou in national and international spheres.