Bél Mizik La (Beautiful Music)

You can’t go too far in Haiti without hearing music. Rara. Kompa. Roots. Reggae. Hip hop. Rap Kreyol. Pop. Salsa. Hymns. No matter the genre, Haitians love music. And the louder, the better – particularly at night. By Haitian standards, the music isn’t loud enough until you: can’t hear yourself or others talking; scream at the top of your lungs when asking for a Presitge; feel the music vibrating throughout your whole body; and start wondering if you’ll end up deaf.

High decibel levels notwithstanding, I enjoyed listening to the rhythms of Haiti. In fact, Haitian music is one of the things that sustained me as a volunteer in Leogane. It bolstered my ability to speak and understand Creole. It brightened my mood on bad days. It helped ease the pain of heartbreak and disappointment. It reminded me to have faith in myself, others and God.

Even now that I’m back home, I find myself listening to Haitian music more so than my favorite Pop, R&B and Soul artists. If I’m not streaming Radio Caraibes on the Internet, then I’m listening to Emeline Michel, BélO, T-Vice, Boukman Eksperyans, Rockfam, Carimi, Kreyol La, Tabou Combo or Wyclef Jean’s Welcome to Haiti – Creole 101 on either iTunes or my iPod. And being briefly re-acquainted with much of the crap that’s played on the radio, I almost exclusively play Haitian music in my car. (This amuses my nephews – especially when I try to sing along.)

Of all the artists/groups I mentioned above, Emeline Michel is emerging as my favorite. In each of her songs, you can hear elements of mizik raisin (roots), rara, kompa, reggae and jazz. Her voice is amazing; she effortlessly delivers beautifully written lyrics, which makes it easy for a non-native Creole speaker like me to understand. (Even if you don’t understand Creole her music is worth listening to.) If you’ve never heard Emeline Michel’s voice, you’re truly missing out. Two of her albums, Mizik Raisin and Reine de Coeur, are available on iTunes, and she is performing at Carnegie Hall in New York next month.

Although Emeline Michel tops my must-have Haitian music list, I’d recommend the others as well. With the exception of Rockfam (which is a rap group), all of the artists have albums available for download on iTunes. So go ahead and check them out. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Bon bagay!