Children practice choreographed moves around plastic buckets used as drums while learning how to play Haitian rara music at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Haitian rara music finds its beat with students
August 13, 2015
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Traditional Haitian music called rara pulses like a heartbeat. It pulses through Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood. It's kept alive in regular street parties. And it is now in a classroom setting. That's where teachers hope the music will carry beyond a core group of immigrant performers.
The music is pronounced RAH-rah. In Haiti, rara season comes in the weeks before Easter.
Dancers, singers, drummers and players of handmade horns take to the streets. They lead their followers on celebrations. Some can last hours and sometimes days.
Rara has its roots in Africa. That is like many traditions in Haiti. It blends Christian and Voodoo influences. The music's rhythms vary across the Caribbean country.
Each season brings new songs on up-to-date subjects. Rara holds an important place in Haiti's political conversation. Every gathering is a chance to catch up on the latest community news as well.
"Rara is really where you hear all the gossip. Just like when you go to a barber shop."
That is according to Weiselande Cesar. Her cultural education group is Tradisyon Lakou Lakay. It recently led a rara workshop for children. It was held at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex.
Rara instruments usually include bamboo or plastic trumpets. Horns can be made from scrapped tin or aluminum. Drums are strapped to the players. That allows them to move freely.
In Cesar's class, children range from kindergarteners to tweens. They use short, hollow batons. They use them to bang on blue plastic buckets for drums.
Professional musicians playing traditional drums set a steady rhythm. It is BOM-BOM, BOM-BOM. Cesar described it as an opening prayer. The children kept the beat for almost two hours. Meanwhile, Cesar taught older students to carry their buckets in choreography. That led them in winding lines through the class.
Wilnord Emile is in the Miami-based professional band Rara Lakay. He taught his 10-year-old son and three other children to play aluminum horns. They blend their single-note tones in bursts with the drumbeats. Their effort left them gasping for air sometimes. Their cheeks were puffed.
The summer workshop is the start of a long-term program. It joins rara and other traditional Haitian music and dance into after-school programs. That is according to Sandy Dorsainvil. She is the center's managing director.
"We also realized that a lot of the techniques and a lot of the traditional songs are not recorded," she said. "It's not often taught. So we wanted to be able to teach this formally.
"And then hopefully, the tradition will keep on."
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is rara a good fit for classrooms?
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