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Ajhanou Uneek performing amongst her community.
Ajhanou Uneek performing amongst her community.
Jayme Gershen

Miami Artists Will Throw a Benefit for Musician and Activist Ajhanou Uneek

Jayme Gershen is thinking of the perfect anecdote to describe her friend. After a long pause, she’s got it.

“She forces me to sing this song with her in Creole, that’s like, one line,” Gershen says about Ajhanou Uneek, a Haitian-American drummer-performer known throughout the Miami music scene for her energetic live performances. “I’m not a musician, but she always pulls me out of the crowd to sing this song. It’s really uncomfortable but it’s really endearing.”

According to her friends, Uneek will have you dancing by the end of any event. Gershen once threw an end-of-summer party, and Uneek was running late as usual. It was a typical backyard party until Uneek rolled up.

“Everyone’s hanging out and talking," Gershen remembers. "Then next thing you know, all of a sudden she walks in with probably like nine drummers and becomes the life of the party.”

Listening to Gershen, you learn a lot about Uneek: She performs with her band RaRa Rock Roots Rasin; she's an environmental activist; her first name is properly pronounced aw-juh-new. And, unfortunately, she's been diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer.

Uneek recently started intensive two-month chemotherapy treatment. Since the treatment's side effects take a toll on her physically, she can no longer work to support herself and her teenage son. That’s where her community comes into the picture.

Ajhanou onstage with her band.
Ajhanou onstage with her band.
Jayme Gershen

Organized by Gershen and other friends and fellow artists, Arts & Beats at Jakmel Art Gallery is a benefit to raise funds for Uneek’s living expenses while she undergoes treatment. The event will feature performances by local artists who jumped at the chance to help Uneek, the same way they know she would do for them.

“Ajhanou would do anything for you if you’re a friend of hers,” said Melanie Oliva, another of the organizers behind Arts & Beats. “You need her, she’s there. Now we would like to be there for her.”

The third organizer, and the one who came up with the idea to throw the benefit, is Dita Devi. She met Uneek through the arts and activism scene in South Florida, drawn to her positive spirit.

“She claims to be 55,” Devi said about her friend. “I don’t know how true that is. She doesn’t look it. She would dance and perform and then get up and start dancing again.”

Devi says there's a childlike quality to Uneek, the way she brings everyone to their feet with the unselfconsciousness of kids. And despite her treatment, she may bring that same energy to Arts & Beats.

“The day after her first chemo she was in such high spirits,” Devi said. “She handled it a lot better than the doctors thought she would.”

Asked the name of the song Ajhanou uses to coerce her into singing at events, Gershen responds, “‘Monte’l Piwo’."

Roughly translated, it means “turn it up.”

Art & Beats: A Musical Benefit for Ajhanou Uneek. 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday, February 10, at Jakmel Art Gallery, 154 NW 37th St., Miami; 786-312-5947; facebook.com. Admission is free; donations encouraged via Eventbrite.

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