As it always happens toward the end of the year on the Haitian musical scene, there was a cornucopia of new releases, particularly in the Konpa genre. While I have not had the time to sample all of them, I want to highlight an eagerly anticipated one: the reunion of Gracia Delva (formerly of Zenglen) and Jean H. Richard, better known as Richie. Even though they had gone different ways, even though Gracia Delva had created in Haiti his successful Mass Konpa Band to the delight of his fans, while Richie continued with his equally successful Zenglen, the public always expected that at some time in the future, they would work together again, it was only a matter of time before their paths crossed again. Well the wish became reality with this this pretty good release entitled: Gracia and Richie – Back to the future.
Zenglen's fans will quickly realize that after all this time, the band has not missed a beat since Gracia Delva left. This is the same solid Konpa beat, the same musicians and some really nice melodies. I have always valued the way Gracia Delva and Richie write the lyrics to their songs. This CD continues the same tradition. You are not only enjoying the music, but a story is being told and sometimes, you are not sure if what you are listening is a result of some personal experience or that of a friend. Track No. 5, Papa, is a concrete example of this. The song is introduced in a most poignant manner by a young kid who does not know where his father is and asks Gracia to carry a message to him, a message of love, of loneliness caused by the disappearance of the father from the family picture. There is nothing he would like more than to see his father and his mother reunited. Would it be correct if he, the boy, would follow his father and act later the same way by abandoning his family. What kind of role model would this be? This is a song with profound meaning. The lyrics are supported by a beautiful melody which sticks to your mind. Gracia's voice as usual provides just the right tone and feeling to emphasize the theme.
Track No. 6, A lanvẻ, deals with another issue that all concerned Haitians should preoccupied with: the dire state of our country. This other set of lyrics further shows Richie's wide range of concern. He is right on the money. The country is upside down; decentralization should take place so that we can go forward; we all need to chip in and not expect the authorities to do everything for us; we should stop fooling ourselves and face the reality that we are at the bottom of the ladder; food is found only in one part of the country; Mr. President, we have missed too many opportunities; we have plenty of cars, and no roads…Sounds familiar, does it not? The song is also played on of those classic Konpa beat that only Zenglen knows how to play. Saxophonist Nicolina Ferrentino (a she) does an excellent solo which belies the fact that she is not Haitian.
Whether they sing about love, family matters, or glorifying Konpa Direk, Gracia and Richie do an excellent job of the lyrics, the melodies and the harmony in their songs. You can hear the fun they are having while the music flows naturally. This CD was a long time in the making, but we all understand why. It is an absolute delight to listen to the music which may sound simple, but in fact contain many subtleties. When it comes to the lyrics, my hats off to these. Many others would do well to follow their leads and pay more attention to their lyrics. Gracia has an expressive voice and he does not have to scream at the top of his lungs, as do other Haitian singers. Therefore, the music reflects a strange kind of soothing serenity that you would not expect from Konpa. Keyboardist Nickenson Prud'homme contributes to reinforcing the harmony with his beautiful phrasing.
I was extremely happy to listen to Track No. 9, Qu'est-ce que la vie?, a classic beautiful tune by the trailblazing Les Frẻres Dẻjean. This is a fitting tribute to this magnificent group which served as a launching pad for many of our great Haitian musician of today, much like Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers facilitated the emergence of many of the great jazz trumpettists, pianists of today.
As I suggested, Zenglen's fans received a pretty nice gift this holiday season. This is just an excellent Konpa CD, in the tradition of Zenglen's previous albums. The mixing is very good, the harmony is nice, the brass section is just excellent. You will enjoy it and if you have not yet done so, you should hurry to buy your copy.
Help fight Haitian CD piracy, it is bad for everyone.
Serge Bellegarde, for Windows on Haiti
Independence Day - January 2007
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