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8316: more on desandann (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Cuban ensemble celebrates Haiti

By David Cázares
Staff Writer
Posted June 7 2001

When Emilia Díaz Chávez was a baby in Camaguey, Cuba, her grandmother would 
sing her soothing lullabies from her native Haiti.

But that didn't stop Díaz from growing up Cuban. Like so many others whose 
ancestors had migrated there from around the world, Díaz was immersed in the 
island's largely Afro-Spanish character -- which led to musical genres such 
as son, rumba and cha-cha-cha.

Still, Díaz never forgot her Haitian roots. In 1994, she helped create Grupo 
Vocal Desandann, an a cappella group composed mainly of second- and 
third-generation Haitians who were born and raised in Cuba.

This weekend, the ensemble of five men and five women arrives in South 
Florida for three shows that the Miami Light Project has billed as an 
opportunity to bridge the cultural divide between Cubans and Haitians here.

Accompanied by light percussion, the singers and dancers celebrate the 
cultural connections fused in Cuba with a repertoire that consists primarily 
of Haitian works in Creole but also includes songs in Spanish and those from 
other islands of the Antilles, such as Martinique.

With rich harmonies, intricate phrasing and the call-and-response techniques 
prevalent in African music worldwide, the singers give new life to folkloric 
and popular songs from the past while also infusing their performances with 
contemporary touches. Their performances center on rhythms like meringue, 
the national music of Haiti, and rabodey, which is similar to the merengue 
of the Dominican Republic, but they also include elements of rasin or voodoo 
music that is also popular in Haiti.

"Our intention was to be able to preserve and also promote the relatively 
unknown Haitian culture in Cuba," said Díaz, the group's director. "All of 
the genres are represented, from the nursery rhymes to folkloric songs. We 
try to incorporate all the rhythms of Haiti and other parts of the 

In South Florida, Grupo Vocal Desandann (meaning descendants) will be 
greeted by a Cuban and Haitian audience that is already buzzing about their 

For some Cuban Americans, the group comes as a surprise, particularly among 
those who were so young when they left the island that they were unaware of 
its Haitian presence.

"As a Cuban immigrant who came here when I was 6 years old, I was surprised 
to find out there was immigration to Cuba from Haiti," said Jorge Mursuli, 
chairman of SAVE Dade, a civil rights organization.

Mursuli said his interest was piqued after he saw Grupo Vocal Desandann in a 
film about Cuban musical groups on the island at the FIU-Miami Film 
Festival. He's intrigued by the possibility that the group could encourage 
dialogue in Miami.

"The bottom is we're all a lot more similar than we are different," Mursuli 

Many in Miami's Haitian community, however, were not surprised.

"What's important to note is the communication between the two groups 
predated their arrival in Miami," said Leonie Hermantin, executive director 
of the Haitian American Foundation. "Being in Miami has perhaps altered the 
way that we communicate with each other. But there's a long history of a 
relationship between Cuba and Haiti."

>From the earliest waves of Haitian migration to Cuba from 1791 to 1805, to 
the one that brought Díaz's grandmother before 1920, Cuba long provided 
Haitians work in the sugar cane fields and port cities.

Haitians made notable contributions to Cuban music, such as introducing the 
island's musicians to the big gourds (or drums) that were used to help 
create rumba, and by bringing the flute-and-violins ensemble during the 
years that led to the Haitian revolution of 1804. Those instruments were 
used to help create the charanga sound of many Cuban bands.

Haitian bands are also prevalent in some Cuban cities, as are the reggae 
bands of Jamaican descendants. But few have gained the worldwide acclaim of 
Grupo Vocal Desandann, an ensemble that in recent years has also made a big 
splash in Haiti.

"I think if there's one thing that makes our group rich, it is precisely our 
combination of cultures and knowing how to take advantage of it," Díaz said. 
"We consider ourselves Cuban, but with our own roots and heritage. We love 
and also defend the culture of our ancestors."

David Cázares can be reached at dcazares@sun-sentinel.com or 305-810-5012.

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