Annual dinner to celebrate Haitian RaRa music and art

Posted:  Thursday, October 5, 2017 - 8:45am

The eighth annual Haiti benefit dinner, which will take place at 6 p.m. on Nov. 3 at St Patrick’s Church in Damariscotta Mills, will have a special emphasis on Haitian RaRa music and art.

In Haitian tradition, RaRa is an exuberant and colorful music festival which usually takes place from the Epiphany to Easter and which is often at its peak during Carnival (Mardi Gras). RaRa is said to have begun in the1700s when French colonization was still strong but as the African cultural heritage of the vast numbers of enslaved African-Haitian sugar plantation workers was re-emerging. The Haitian revolution, which came in the 1790s and resulted in the creation of a new state in 1803, was not only a political and military fight for human dignity and independence but also a cultural revolution in new African derived art, music, and dance forms. A traditional RaRa band today is a group of citizens of African descent organized and marching as troupes, parading through the streets with drums, horns, and singers belting in rich Haitian Creole. The effect is infectious. Members of the Haiti Ecumenical Committee have promised to lead dinner participants in a RaRa parade!

RaRa music centers around a large set of cylindrical bamboo trumpets called vaksen—as pictured in the above painting. These impressive woodwind instruments may also be made of metal, making them more boisterous brassy instruments. The vaksen plays a repeating rhythm in a monotonous, trance-like way, generally at a tempo fast enough to move one to dance. In a normal RaRa parade, drums, maracas, and other types of percussive objects like bells and cans are used to add to the overall effect. In modern times, saxophones or trumpets are often blown by random members of the crowd.

All songs performed during a RaRa parade are in Haitian Creole. Lyrics are generally intended to celebrate African heritage or are political in nature commenting on poverty, social disparities and government failings.

The painting of two vaksen players leading a RaRa band wonderfully mirrors the exuberance, movement, color and gaiety of the crowd. The painter is Jean-Baptiste Nyperking who was born in Port-au-Prince in 1973. Following in the footsteps of two brothers who are also painters, he has cultivated a warm, sensitive, impressionistic style. His works tend to focus on the daily activities of ordinary people, from market places, to cockfights and especially to the dances and rhythms of the RaRa band. The painting has been beautifully framed by Alan Baldwin at Artsake and is 23”x 27”. It will be raffled at the benefit dinner. Tickets will be $5 each or three for $10. The painting will be on display at Skidompha library from Oct. 23 to Nov. 3 and raffle tickets will be available for purchase at the library as well as at the dinner.

All funds raised at the dinner go for projects selected by the Friends of Gros Morne committee in the northwest Haitian town of Gros Morne. The emphasis is on projects for the poorest of the poor.

Tickets for the dinner will be $30 for adults ($35 at the door) and $15 for children and will soon be available at Skidompha library, Sherman’s bookshops in Damariscotta and Boothbay Harbor, Treats and from representatives of the Lincoln County Ecumenical Committee at the following churches: St Patrick’s, Damariscotta Mills; St Andrew’s, Newcastle; Wiscasset Congregational; Second Congregational, Newcastle; St Giles, Wiscasset; and St Denis, Whitefield.

To make a donation, to volunteer or for more information on the dinner, please call 563-1931.