A tale of two women of two Islands - Sandra Mirabal Jean-Claude
After a rather long interval, I take great pleasure in resuming the Chronique musicale, a welcome break from the intensely busy last six months. I cannot think of anything more satisfying than listening to the CD entitled "Cadencia – Songs from Haiti and Cuba". Why Haiti and Cuba on the same album? For one thing, we know about the historically close cultural ties between Haiti and Cuba. Those close ties are being continuously reinforced and this is what Sandra Mirabal Jean-Claude has done with this CD. She is the daughter of the Grand Dame of Haitian Music, the late Martha jean-Claude, the “Woman of two Isles”. Her daughter can rightly say the same about herself.
The album, as Sandra says, is a tribute to her “ Mamita”, her beloved mother “whose shining example was and always will be in my life as my best present”. It is a fitting tribute The CD is a wonderful blend of Haitian and Cuban songs. Sandra is supported by a superb Dutch composer and arranger, pianist called Jakob Klaasse. She could not have had a better musical partner. The resemblance between Sandra Mirabal Jean-Claude is undeniable: the voice, the beautiful turns of phrase, the purity of the voice, that rich tone. At times, she can be mellow or playful. Tune No. 4, “Drume negrita” is beautiful lullaby that shows how mellow Sandra’s voice can be . Any baby, or for that matter, any adult, would go to sleep, and who would not with such a melodious voice! Listen to the treatment she gives to tune No. 5, a famous song written by Martha Jean-Claude. You close your eyes and it seems that Martha jean-Claude is there singing. The orchestration is just wonderful. Sandra evokes the pleasant nostalgia of the good old times her mother provided Haitian society.
The songs on the CD are almost equally divided between Cuban and Haitian tunes and whether she sings in Spanish or in Haitian Kreyòl, whether she deals with Haitian folkloric songs, Cuban danzón, or salsa, Sandra shows her versatility, weaving through the songs effortlessly, as if she was setting a cultural quilt between Haiti and Cuba. I should note however that this versatility is not limited only to her singing though.
Indeed, I would be remiss if I failed to mention Sandra’s tremendous talent as an instrumentalist in her own right. She graduated summa cum laude from music school and is an accomplished clarinetist who taught at the Cuban Conservatory of Music A. Roldan. That is no small feat! For two years, she was a member of the Clarinet Quintet of Havana. So, you have a wonderful singer coupled with an excellent instrumentalist: that is a recipe for excellence. This aspect of her talent is especially on display in tune No. 9 “Invitación”, written by I. Cervantes and arranged for clarinet. On that tune, Sandra plays 2 soprano clarinets, one alto clarinet, and one bass clarinet. The harmony is exquisite, a real masterpiece! If anything, unfortunately, this classic Cuban piano piece, as arranged on this CD, is too short and just as we are enjoying it, the piece ends, leaving us a bit frustrated.
As I said earlier, the group of musicians supporting Sandra is impeccable. Under the direction of pianist Jakob Klaasse, the group plays with tremendous discipline. Not a wasted note; at no time is the singing overwhelmed by the arrangements which are classy, subtle when necessary, never to much, nor too little. Everything falls right on the dot. The rhythm section is just excellent and pianist Klaasse, without being flashy, provides the right kind of support. This is the mark of a musician who knows how to arrange and play with harmony. The bass player is remarkable. All in all, you feel the musicians are at ease with each other and it is no wonder that the music is so precise and harmonious. In general, I like to choose which songs on the album is my favorite. But in this case, it is most difficult to do so. Each one of the songs is a real joy to listen to. The mixing is just excellent and all instruments come out clear and in the right tone.
Cadencia – Songs from Haiti and Cuba, is not only a wonderful tribute to a wonderful artist from her daughter; it is also the reaffirmation of the status of Woman of two Isles for Martha Jean-Claude and for her daughter who did not shy away from keeping her ties to Haiti alive, but rather to tighten them, while taking “the music of two Caribbean islands, Haiti and Cuban, combining nostalgia and a fresh modern view”. She could not have done better; she could not have chosen a better set of songs to do so.
Help fight Haitian CD piracy. It is bad for everyone.
Serge Bellegarde, for Windows on Haiti, July 2009