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a252: An evening at Carnegie Hall (A report by Serge Bellegarde)(fwd)

From: GUY S ANTOINE <guyantoine@windowsonhaiti.com>

An unforgettable evening at Carnegie Hall
A Windows on Haiti Special Report
by Serge Bellegarde

There have been many landmarks in the history of Haitian cultural events in
New York, but the concert which took place on December 29, 2001 at the
Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall is bound to become one of the most
memorable Haitian events taking place in this Haitian Community in recent
memory. As grandiose as it was, this concert had an even nobler objective :
to honor the memory of the many Haitians who lost their lives at the World
Trade Center on September 11, 2001, leaving behind many grieved family
members, partners, and friends. The concert was enhanced by the presence
of a number of dignitaries: Lesly Voltaire, the Haitian Minister for Haitians
living abroad; Randy Daniels, Secretary of State of New York; Captain
Sapienza of the New York firefighters Company No. 9; Mr. Gérard Baptiste,
a Haitian American from the New York Police Department (NYPD); and
the Caribbean Liaison officer for NYPD, Mr. Lesly Léon. Organized by
Mapou Productions, LTD, the concert was aptly entitled: The Haitian
Community salutes our Heroes. The success of this memorable evening at
Carnegie Hall can no doubt be attributed to many factors. I will list some
of the more important ones from my standpoint.

Efficient and effective organization
No event of this magnitude could have succeeded without an efficient
and effective organization. I pay tribute to Mapou Productions, Ltd. for
presenting this event and to the members who made it all happen: Jean
Jean-Pierre, Producer for Mapou Productions; Roudy Noisette, Concert
Manager; Pierre Alix Haspil, M.D., Coordinator, Jocelyne Mayas, Public
Relations and Lili Cerat and Pascale Haspil, Presenters. The concert
unfolded like a well-oiled machine. Contrary to events organized by too
many compatriots, everything started on time and ended on time, to the
amazement of Carnegie Hall officials who could not believe that so many
artists could fit so many performances in a three-hour timeslot. The
presenters did not miss a beat, following the script to the minute and
showing a high sense of professionalism in so doing.

The vision behind the concert
One characteristic sets this concert apart from anything similar having
taken place in the Haitian community: that is the wide range and the
quality of the music covered in 3 hours. It is evident that the organizers
had one specific goal in mind: to showcase a wide range of Haitian musical
talent. I believe those expectations were exceeded. Indeed, in only 3 hours,
we were gratified with opera singing by three wonderful Haitian sopranos,
Haitian ballads, a dance troop with folkloric presentations, classical Haitian
music by two renowned guitarists, male and female vocalists singing some
of their greatest hits, and traditional songs by Choir ensemble. Anyone will
admit that this is quite a feat and the team is to be commanded for
undertaking such a task in a relatively short amount of time, and succeeding
with high marks.

The artists
There are so many aspects involved in organizing a concert of this nature,
so many elements that come into play that it is enough to discourage anyone.
Not this team though. Having been involved in music, I can wholly appreciate
the anxiety the organizers must have experienced to make sure that everything
went well on the music side. In that respect, I think that a special recognition
should go to Jean Jean-Pierre, the journalist, musician, analyst, composer,
organizer and much more. In other words, Mr. Versatile. Not only did he do
all that, but he also composed a musical suite, single-handedly set up the full
orchestra, had time to rehearse with it and had it play his composition. I feel
tired just writing about it. I also understand that he was responsible for getting
most of the musicians on board for the concert.

What a show those musicians gave! Not only did they accept to participate,
but they donated their time without hesitation whatsoever, coming to New
York by their own means to make this evening a success.

I was quite impressed with the performances of the opera singers, Marie
Michèle Sorel, Carline Keil (also featured on Ricardo Frank's most recent
CD) and Francesca Altema, a 16 year-old singing sensation who was being
introduced by Mapou Productions. Judging by the applause which met those
singers, they surely won the heart of the audience.

The guitar was well represented at the concert and most interestingly; the
three guitarists have quite different styles. Marc Mathelier, who evolved in
the classical mold of his teacher, the great Frantz Casseus, played ever so
softly, reflecting the solemnity and the spirit of the event. Ricardo Frank,
better known as "Ti Plume", the musician's musician, continues to show his
versatility, playing a variety of styles and even using the guitar box as a
rhythm instrument. Whether he plays Konpa dirèk, ballads, classical music
or flamenco music, he is equally at ease. Beethova Obas hardly needs any
introduction. Playing a soft guitar, he and his brother sang a tune from their
most recent album "Planèt la". This duet was just superb. One of the
characteristics of Beethova Obas's music is his fine melodic guitar phrasing,
not to speak of his excellent writing talent. The lyrics of his songs contain
powerful social, emotional and political messages that touch you to the bone.

The great Haitian diva Emeline Michel, of world fame, sang two songs
from her most recent CD: "Cordes et âmes", one with Beethova Obas
and the other one, my favorite on her CD: Viejo. The emotion and the
poignancy with which she sang this song would move mountains. Emeline
Michel has such an impressive stage presence that, petite as she is, she
can take over a whole stage.

Later, the legendary Gary French took us back memory lane with the tune
"New York, New York" and particularly "La femme de mes rêves" one of
his hits with the legendary Ensemble Webert Sicot. As soon as he uttered
the first words of the song, the audience burst into applause.

Singers Jean-Claude Eugène and Michel Pressoir represented the
Washington-Maryland-Virginia area very well. Michel Pressoir is one
of the veteran icons of Haitian music who has played with so many
musicians, from Edner Guignard to Nemours Jean-Baptiste. It would
take too long to list here his numerous accomplishments. The classic
tune he sang "Ayiti mwen retounen" brought back a lot of nostalgic
memories. It was met with warm applause from the audience.

For his part, Jean-Claude Eugène was equally up to the task, with his
thunderous voice and commanding stage presence. The 2nd tune he
sang, "Libète" is remarkable not only for its catchy melody, but also for
its lyrics which carry powerful messages that reverberated throughout
the hall. It is becoming one of J.C. Eugène's trademarks to have dances
accompanying his singing. He gave a very nice rendition of the traditional
song "Latibonit O" as the dancers took the stage. The audience responded
very warmly. [I heard through the grapevine that his next CD should be out
in the near future.]

That evening would have been incomplete without a good folkloric representation.
This was taken care of with the performance of two groups. First, "La Troupe
Choucoune" gave two colorful performances which drew loud applause from
the audience. Of particular notice is the second performance in which the dancers
revolved around a tall drum as the center piece, decorated with the American flag.
The four drummers provided solid support and I can bet that Carnegie Hall had
never experienced this kind of drumming before.

The other folkloric entertainment was provided by the wonderful choir ensemble
"Voix et Tambours d'Haïti", under the direction of Maestro Antoine Chéry. If
you had not listened to them before, you got only a glimpse of the ensemble. Their
CD was released earlier in 2001 and it is excellent, witness their performance at
Carnegie Hall. Reminiscent of groups like Choeur Simidor, Voix et Tambours
d'Haïti performs traditional Haitian folkloric songs. Listening to them that night
was a real treat and I am sure the audience would have loved to hear more. This
is traditional Haitian culture at its best and the response from the audience was
quite appreciative.

Everyone in the audience, I am sure, would have liked to see this show go at
least an hour longer and have the artists present more of their repertoire. Since
this was a fund-raising activity, we had to contend with that. Everyone I have
spoken to so far came out of the Hall immensely satisfied and proud not only
of having had a memorable Haitian evening at Carnegie Hall, but also of having
it so well organized in such professional manner. It was indeed a solemn tribute
from the Haitian Community to our fallen heroes.

I could not conclude without making the following personal observation. We all
know that that in too many cases, Haitian events fail to start on time. It is obvious
that a lot of my compatriots did not take seriously the starting time for the concert.
Well, they were in for a bad surprise. They must have been quite startled, some
arriving as late as 8:15 p.m., when they realized that they had already missed so
much of the concert. They knew that the concert was scheduled to start at 7 p.m.,
but old habits die hard. May they start learn that on certain occasions, the scheduled
time is the time, not before or after.

Finally, we all hope that this kind of concert will be the first of what could be a
wonderful experience for the Haitian Community at large. There was room for
more participation of the public and it is my sincere wish that the word will go
around about this concert , and that the public at large will continue to respond
even more enthusiastically to this kind of event. I consider that an important first
step was made on that date and that this concert will be used as reference for
future events of this kind.

Serge Bellegarde