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
Traditional Haitian music called rara pulses like a heartbeat through Miami's Little Haiti neighborhood. It's kept alive in regular street parties and now in a more formal classroom setting. That's where educators hope the music will carry beyond a core group of immigrant performers.
In Haiti, rara (RAH-rah) season comes in the weeks before Easter. Dancers, singers, drummers and players of handmade horns take to the streets. They lead their followers on festivities that could last hours and sometimes days.
Like many traditions in Haiti, rara has its roots in Africa. It blends Christian and Voodoo influences. The music's rhythms vary across the Caribbean country.
Each season brings new songs on current subjects. Rara holds an important place in Haiti's political dialogue. 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 Tradisyon Lakou Lakay led a rara workshop for children at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex recently.
Rara instruments typically include bamboo or plastic trumpets. Horns can be made from scrapped tin or aluminum. Drums are strapped to the players to allow them to move freely.
In Cesar's class, children range from kindergarteners to tweens. They use short, hollow batons to bang on blue plastic buckets for drums.
Professional musicians playing traditional drums set a steady rhythm - BOM-BOM, BOM-BOM. Cesar described this 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 twisting lines through the class.
Wilnord Emile of the Miami-based professional band Rara Lakay 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. The effort left them sometimes gasping for air, cheeks puffed.
The summer workshop is the start of a long-term program. It brings together rara and other traditional Haitian music and dance into after-school programs. That is according to the center's managing director, Sandy Dorsainvil.
"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."
Assigned 67 times
CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why is rara a good fit for classrooms?
Write your answers in the comments section below