By Michael E. Miller
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In May 2007, Erol released Regleman on Mi5 Recordings, the world music division of EMI. It's a love letter to the vodou faith. The CD's first song, "Hounto Legba," reveals a conversation between the spirit of the drum and the god of wisdom, who opens the gates for all the spirits to enter the ceremony. The songs invoke the goddess of water, make reference to freed slaves, and refer to Erol's abuse at Catholic schoolteachers' hands. Traditional Afro-Haitian drumming is at the core of all of the disc's 13 songs, but each contains a different, funky gem — a violin here, a samba beat there.
Critics have loved it. One reviewer on poplife.com wrote, "The music on Regleman is so beautiful and the presentation so hip and nonchalantly pretty that it makes the zombie-slave blood-of-Satan notions of vodou look even more cartoonish than they already do."
The album is sold on Amazon.com and on iTunes, where one of the tracks is also featured on a world music compilation. In August the disc was highlighted on the "Global Hit" segment of BBC's The World radio program. Erol spoke about Haitians' relationship to music. "Music is our bible. For example, any situation in life has music. The music in Regleman is universal and I try to do a common language for people, but it's also personal. I can be inspired by that microphone and that situation and sing it."
Around the time the CD was released, Erol shifted his home, once again, to Miami. He says he missed the sun, the palm trees, and the texture of Little Haiti. Although he couch-surfs back and forth between Miami and New York, he considers Miami home base.
His nomadic life underscores his artistic personality. Erol is quirky, soft-spoken, and delicate in manner yet strong, with a dancer's body. He isn't punctual and, at times, is a bit dreamy. He laughs a lot — tiny dogs especially make him chuckle — and speaks French so fluently and beautifully that when he orders a bottle of wine in New York, a waitress is stunned by his pronunciation. "I don't think I've ever heard French spoken so well," she stammers. Erol giggles, partly because he predicted she wouldn't expect a black man to purr such fluent français.
He doesn't have a car — he doesn't know how to drive — and he is one of those people who knows how to live well, dress fabulously (in Dolce & Gabbana), and travel effortlessly, without being encumbered by things such as credit card bills and budgets. He pops up seemingly everywhere. Just a few weeks after making Miami his home, he appeared at a Broward County rally with a sign that read "Stop the injustice" to protest the detention of 101 Haitians who had washed ashore in South Florida.
Erol's cell phone rings constantly. A steady stream of artist friends want to get together, and Haitians call to consult on vodou matters. "I get a lot of calls in the morning from people who want their dreams interpreted," he says. People he mentors spiritually help him financially on occasion — but much of his work, such as the ceremony for Chantal in New York, is done pro bono.
Music is his moneymaker. He sells his CDs for $20 during his performances and receives royalties from online sales. He also sometimes performs at places like Sheba, an Ethiopian restaurant in the Design District, for audiences that include well-dressed, upper-middle-class Haitian émigrés, many of whom would not normally admit publicly of their vodou roots. "Erol is like a bridge between the upper and lower class," says Florence Jean-Joseph. "I don't know if he's even aware of it."
Although he spiritually mentors dozens of people in New York, he is working with only a few here in South Florida. One of them is Paul Roesph, a 30-year-old white graphic designer from Fort Lauderdale. Erol helped him host a ceremony to invite spirits into his condo in July. Roesph had become intrigued with the vodou religion after reading about it, and was referred to Erol by a friend of a friend. "Erol stood in front of 15 other Haitians and said, that man — meaning me — is coming into our tradition," says Roesph. "I was the only white person in the room. He said to everyone: 'I want you to accept him. The loa are here with him.'
"Erol is so sincere. He knows that vodou is a religion for anybody."
It is 5:00 a.m. in Chantal's Long Island basement, and Ogou is inside Erol. He lights a cigar and shakes everyone's hand. Unlike Chantal, who has been possessed by an obviously angry Ogou, Erol has been seized with the spirit of the dealmaker, the politician, the organizer. His face is confident, masculine, hard — so different from the tender, almost maternal look he had when helping Chantal a few hours earlier. He taps cigar ashes in almost everyone's hands — not Chantal's, because she is still screaming and waving the machete — and nods in approval. It is an odd, yet comforting, blessing amid the chaos.