The Vodou They Do So Well

Now, it would appear, the extreme dangers faced by the members of Boukman Eksperyans are behind them. Military strongman Raoul Cedras left the island in October; Aristide -- a Catholic priest whose sympathetic understanding of Vodou's place in Haitian society has been misrepresented and exploited by his opponents in both Haiti and the U.S. -- has been reinstated as president. Libäte, released in April, has garnered overwhelmingly positive press. Boukman's songs are back on Haitian radio stations, and fans can once again hum the melodies to those songs in public without risking a beating at the hands of the police. In January the band played a free concert in Port-au-Prince for an enthusiastic crowd numbering more than 100,000.

But true to his unswerving idealism, Beaubrun refuses to celebrate these developments as a triumph for Haiti's long-oppressed masses. "I'm glad Aristide is in power, because he's made many important decisions like disbanding the army," Beaubrun contends. "But things have only changed on the surface. We want a complete change. The revolution we're talking about has to be a change of the whole life. We need a new system, an alternative to capitalism and communism that makes the connection between the material and spiritual."

Given the continued influence of Haiti's well-entrenched, moneyed elite, as well as the knee-jerk reaction that Beaubrun's message of social reform is sure to evoke in Haiti's imposing western neighbor, it may be a long wait. Then again, as Beaubrun points out, "Haiti is a magical country. You can see somebody on the street, maybe he shines shoes, and by Western standards he would be nothing compared with someone who has a lot of money. But in Haiti he can be a great priest, he can be a healer, he can be someone with good power. Anything can happen."

Boukman Eksperyans performs as part of Africa Fàte on Monday, July 3, at Marlin Gardens, 12th Street and Collins Avenue, Miami Beach; 673-5202. Other scheduled acts include Baaba Maal, Femi Kuti, and Oumou Sangare. Gates open at 6:00 p.m. Admission costs $10.

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