April 19, 2024

The rapid ascent of a young generation of beatmakers with Haitian roots – artists like Kaytranada, Fool’s Gold label mates High Klassified and Shash’U, as well as longstanding LuckyMe artist Lunice. While none of them overtly revisit or reinterpret the traditional sounds of their Caribbean ancestors such as kompa, rara, zouk, or even Vodou rhythms, their shared affection for skittering drums and rib-rattling sub-bass sounds goes a long way to showing how Haitian artists are in vogue. I’d say their Haitian roots have an influence on the way they produce, even just the percussive elements in their songs. It’s not a direct correlation, but there’s something unique there.

However there are more serious purveyors of Haitian roots music which need to be discovered by the unknowing world at large. Gaston Jean-Baptiste, known as “Bonga”, is a musical virtuoso. He began playing drums in his family’s peristil in his hometown of Croix-des-Mission in La Plaine, an area of Haiti known for culture and history.

Bonga Jean-Baptiste is regarded as a master of the Afro Haitian drum, sought-after for his extensive repertoire of pan-African rhythms. He incorporates Haitian roots music to produce a fresh, irresistible sound. Using Vodou rhythms, call and response vocals, and the insistent energy of his roaring percussion. Haitian people are very superstitious. They never talk about Vodou. But their drums are so powerful; they’re meant to invoke specific spirits. It’s repetitive, and can get you into a meditative state, as you listen to it.

That fascination for Vodou is echoed by musical experts, who believe the sense of rhythm that’s deeply embedded in Haitian culture is a key component of the spirit-channeling religion. I read elsewhere that there are around a hundred types of spirits, and each one has a specific drum pattern.

Apparently serious Vodou practitioners will hear these rhythms and instantly recognize what spirit is being summoned. I don’t know if that is the case with Bonga, but he plays a dynamic set of rhythms rather imperiously on his 15 track album “Kenbe Tradision”.

Gaston Jean-Baptiste’s music is the sum of infinite parts, with an amalgam of influences and styles that combine to create layers of sound and rhythm, to create something entirely unique. When you listen to Bonga Jean-Baptiste you begin to understand why music is the heartbeat of a country that has faced generations of tragedy and hardship, but always finds time to sing and dance.

Bonga’s potpourri of rhythm and melody is indeed, every bit as rapturous as Haiti’s ideal of human community. The lasting result is a rich, layered terrine that captures Bonga’s vibrant laboratory of rhythms.

Emotions are routinely expressed through Bonga Jean-Baptiste’s musical outpourings, as his rhythms rest inside the listener’s in bone marrow. A complex, multi-dimensional musician with numerous influences to draw from, Gaston Jean-Baptiste, better known as Bonga Jean-Baptiste, represents a cultural ethos via technique and spirituality.

A tapestry of sound embroidered primarily with drums and voices, Bonga’s personal expressions are everywhere on this album, both subtly and overtly. Classic, timeless, and authentic “Kenbe Tradision”, is now readily available to the masses.

Book Bonga for your event bonga@bongamusic.com


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