Thursday, March 11, 2010

Songs of Despair & Redemption // "A Haitian singer and his guitar fight urge to weep"

Simon Romero writes of gifted and revered Haitian musician Beken in this recent New York Times article. The larger vision of Romero's piece poses timely (and timeless) questions about the relationship between art and tragedy.

Full Article Here // Excerpt Below

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — His pack of Comme Il Faut cigarettes was almost depleted. The smell of rotting garbage on the street and fried pork from a stall next to his tent filled the air in Place St. Pierre. Some children looked at his crutch and grew silent. Beken, one of Haiti’s most gifted musicians, exhaled a veil of smoke.

“I should be in Miami living off the proceeds of my records,” said Beken, born here 54 years ago as Jean-Prosper Deauphin before adopting his stage name (pronounced Beck-ENN). “Instead I’m living in the filth of this place,” he said, summing up a predicament unbeknown to many who revere his songs.

Haiti is astonishingly rich in music, with musicians who are more successful and famous than Beken, including the Port-au-Prince hip-hop group Barikad Crew and the protest singer Manno Charlemagne, who now lives in the United States. But few composers occupy a space quite like Beken’s, whose songs of despair and redemption strongly resonate with Haitians during times of tragedy.

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