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Soundtrax from Bas Me Limbe, Haiti

Traditional Haitian music played by local singers and musicians with handmade percussion and string bass instruments in the village Bas Me Limbe .This was taken with a flash in total darkness. Photo: Eric Doubt.

As part of our Soundtrax series, listener Eric Doubt sent us this, from his experience as a volunteer in Haiti.


 Dear CBC Dispatches producers,

(Attached is) an iPhone audio recording, made on the night of November 19, 2011 on a remote beach in northern Haiti.

  Eric's recording



 Eric wrote:

The scene is as follows, from a blog I wrote while on a volunteer medical mission at the time, with HaitiVillage Health

As the sun set (early here) the villagers gathered for a special night of music and dancing, with only a small bonfire and a crystal clear starry sky to light the incredible scene of local culture and amusement. The musicians were two drummers whacking expertly with different instruments on an old broken iron pot (I think); and three 'string bass' players striking on ropes stretched from the end of a long curved wooden pole, anchored at the other end in the ground to a rubber pad secured over a hole in the ground by a wooden frame and pegs. The tonal range and power produced by this primitive string section was impressive. Above the syncopated wild drumming and the musical interplay of three thumping bassists rose the melodious and haunting voice of a male singer, sometimes harmonizing with a partner, calling to the chorus and the dancers....

Singers, dancers, drummers and musicians interacted with increasing intensity for five hours without a moment's break. It was impossible not to lose oneself in this sensational night.

The village is Bas Me Limbe, a few hours by hard road from Cap Haitien and, as a contrast, across the wide bay from the tourist beach of Labadie where Royal Caribbean cruise lines regularly deposits thousands of tourists in the sun and safety of a beautiful, isolated stretch of Haitian paradise. The performers I witnessed and was so entranced by were not trained, nor from the city, not sent or hired to entertain foreigners. (I've seen lots of talented Haitians generously entertain the dedicated volunteer troops that visit on rotation throughout country.) This was their home, this was their thing, and it was real. Their audience was the hometown crowd - adults, teens and children from the village and, mingling easily in the crowd, our team of family docs, paediatricians, and support volunteers from the US, Canada and Bermuda. I was told that the previous week during national holidays they group played like this for five nights straight.

I have been volunteering and working in Haiti (pat time) since 2006 when I saw a short CBC TV piece by senior correspondent Neil MacDonald on the subject of orphans with disabilities abandoned in the General Hospital in Port au Prince. It inspired me to stop agonizing over late night TV NGO infomercials, get off the couch and instead, do something. That night I volunteered in a non-medical support role with the Healing Hands for Haiti, the lead physical therapy and rehabilitation NGO in Haiti. Six weeks later I was visiting the same kids at an orphanage which had adopted all of them from the General Hospital. Over the years I've played many roles at HHH including board member, marketing consultant and eventually, full time Executive Director. I am now a volunteer and consultant with the Haiti Village Health. 



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