Haiti Isn't Asking for Handouts; It's Dancing to 'Sounds of Solidarity'

For Haiti, one of the most impoverished countries in the world, music and the energy and community cultivated with it are restoring hope, entrepreneurship, and sparking an uplifting movement -- an EDM (electric dance music) movement to be exact.
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Dancers at Gardy Girault's No Passport event, Royal Oasis hotel rooftop

Music. Vibrations. Dance. For some, these art forms transport the heart and mind emotionally faster than anything else. For Haiti, one of the most impoverished countries in the world, music and the energy and community cultivated with it are restoring hope, entrepreneurship, and sparking an uplifting movement -- an EDM (electric dance music) movement to be exact. The electronic music scene began budding in Haiti in 2008, but it took on a life of its own after the catastrophic earthquake of 2010 devastated the nation and saw an estimated death toll of 316,000.

With only a week to film all of the footage, documentarian Yasemin Denari Southworth and her film crew captured the essence of the burgeoning DJ community and nightlife in the Haitian capital, Port-Au-Prince, in the documentary Sounds of Solidarity: Haiti's Dance Music Movement, produced for Thump, the electronic music and culture channel from Vice.

In a day and age when much of the storytelling about the developing world revolves around the impact Western do-gooders are having, but fails to celebrate the talents and achievements of the native citizens there, Sounds of Solidarity refreshingly shines a spotlight on how the DJs of Haiti are using their influence to spread positivity in their country. Despite what the news media tell you, Haiti isn't asking for handouts.

I caught up with Yasemin to find out what she discovered while filming Sounds of Solidarity in December of last year.

TB: What did you learn about the entrepreneurial spirit of the people of Haiti while you were filming this documentary?

YDS: It seems as though maintaining a positive attitude and a resilient spirit is part of the social culture in Haiti, and this is particularly impressive given the extremely difficult circumstances that many Haitians face and have faced. Positivity and resilience, in my opinion, are two of the most effective and impactful qualities that one can have as an entrepreneur.

This entire DJ/party scene is sparking entrepreneurs in itself, from DJ Gardy Girault, who is pioneering a new music genre, Rara Tech; to professional event throwers like Frederic Rouzier and Gilles Malval, who are putting on some of the best parties the country has ever seen; to lighting and visual arts artists like Lionel St. Pierre, who is bringing an artistic and high tech dimension to the partygoers' experience.

TB: Did you see any indication that the EDM movement there can alleviate poverty?

Yes I think so. As I mentioned above, Port-au-Prince's EDM movement has fostered a business ecosystem around it. There are now a number of promoters, venue owners and operators, ticket sellers, sponsors, security, visual effects artists, etc. If demand for these EDM events and tourism in Haiti continues to grow, there will likely be opportunities for even more people to get involved.

Irrespective of the degree of poverty alleviation, I believe that in Haiti EDM and its associated party culture can and does temporarily alleviate many people's frustrations over their situations or the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. I feel like this may be true of EDM music and EDM parties in general. They provide an atmosphere where people can really live in the moment, let go and enjoy.


Caption for photo: Tony Mix, Yasemin Denari Southworth & Gardy Girault

TB: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the Haitian culture?

YDS: I think that most media depictions of Haiti are similar in nature to what Gilles Malval describes in Sounds of Solidarity - "a kid, in the mud, with a bunch of flies on his eyeball." This portrayal, often times paired with dismal music or commentary, evokes a pitiful and sad image of the country. While it is certainly true that there are a lot of poor people in Haiti, the energy on the street is by no means miserable. It is instead bustling, lively, and the roads are filled with hopeful and happy people with smiling eyes.

TB: As a documentary maker what kind of storytelling would you like to see more of with regard to the developing world?

YDS: Nonfiction storytelling is a means for imparting knowledge. I think that documentaries, particularly short documentaries likes the ones that VICE produces, are a very powerful medium for spreading important messages and messages for social good, quickly and to a large audience. People's attention spans these days are getting shorter by the minute, and it is amazing the amount of information you can pack into a 15-20 minute piece. In my case, I hope that many people were/will be exposed to a refreshing side of Haiti that they never could have imagined existed. I'm sure that there are many other fascinating, but yet to be told stories about Haiti and other countries in the developing world.

TB: Anything you'd like to add?

YDS: I made a playlist of music from Haitian DJs Gardy Girault, Michael Brun, Tony Mix, and Cedric Roy, which you can access here.

Also, details still to be finalized, but I'm helping to put together a joint show in San Francisco on August 22nd, featuring Gardy Girault from Sounds of Solidarity. Gardy is known for infusing traditional Haitian konpa and rara sounds with house music. It will be his first show in SF and the other DJ of the night will be my friend and Stanford GSB classmate, Charlie Kubal (wait what).

Check out Sounds of Solidarity here.

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