When considering things Haitian, the first lesson is that spelling doesn't count for much. Consider Rasin Festival, the annual blowout celebrating the island nation's culture. It takes its name from a term for roots music. But rasin is also musique racine or simply racine. Sometimes it's spelled raisinn. And actually the pure roots music of Haiti is called rara, from which racine, or rasin, evolved by incorporating more socially charged and vodou-related influences. And it's also known as mizik ginen.
Whatever you call it, it's potent stuff, as rhythm-driven and charged with energy as its famous cousin konpa (often spelled compas). Marked by drum-heavy African beats, rara/rasin/racine emerged, like konpa, back in the Fifties. It gained prominence during the late Eighties and early Nineties, when Haiti was politically on fire after the demise of Papa Doc and before the U.S.-led reinstallation of Lavalas and Aristide. A pioneering rasin band of that era, Koudjay has a history of lively carnivals and should delight the thousands who attend Rasin Festival this year. (Tens of thousands of people turn out at Carnivals in Haiti to hear bands that traditionally debut new material for the occasion.)
Koudjay founder (and one of its lead singers) "Kessie" Lubin has been accused of hiding (in Homestead we hear) for fear of reprisals from anti-Aristide forces in Haiti, but he scoffs at such claims. Lubin has always presented himself as a patriot first, and his music certainly speaks to the class division between urbanites and country folk in Haitian society. Koudjay's sonic argument insists that those Haitians who look down on their rural countrymen are denying their own roots at their peril. And while Koudjay's music, like most rasin, sips from the kanari of Haiti's main religion, Lubin doesn't want listeners to drown in that idiomatic aspect. In any case, Koudjay is the middle ground between the spiritual and secular elements of roots music.
On the spiritual side of the genre, Azor is much more closely tied to vodou. Drums and vocals create hypnotic rhythms possessed of both a steely pulse and jumping peaks and valleys. And Chandel goes the other way, tackling social issues like the island's grotesque unemployment and then piling on with verbal attacks against U.S. interference in Haitian politics.
The promoters of Rasin don't want the audience to spend the entire day wrapped in the seriousness of roots music, so there will be plenty of konpa mixed in. Other bands slated for the show are Djakout Mizik, Nu Look, T-Vice, and two reggae groups, Jahnesta and Top Adlerman all considered premier acts. There will be many other diversions in downtown Miami's now hurricane-torn bayside showplace. It's a don't-miss blast no matter how you spell it.