[IMC-Audio] Hour: Hip-hop, Haiti and hope. Vox Sambou and Lou Piensa.
christoff at resist.ca
Fri Aug 22 10:47:42 PDT 2008
* Hour: Hip-hop, Haiti and hope.
Cultural Crossroads interview with Vox Sambou and Lou Piensa.
by Stefan Christoff
* Listen to a track from Vox Sambou album at the link above...
Montreal is a critical centre for the Haitian diaspora, and as such the
cultural and political modes of the Caribbean nation are strongly felt here.
Vox Sambou, an emerging Montreal hip-hop artist, tells stories of Haiti. A key
figure in the global rap ensemble Nomadic Massive, his recently released album,
Lakay, put out by Public Transit Recordings, is a striking debut that weaves
both beautiful and bold tales of Haiti's historic and contemporary struggle for
Born in Limbe, on Haiti's northern coast, Sambou's musical journey began in
Haiti as a teenager performing at venues in the capital during the tense
political years proceeding the first coup d'état against the country's former
populist president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In 1995, Sambou fled Haiti with his
family and came to Canada, first to Winnipeg and then to Montreal. After
completing university, where his work within the grassroots hip-hop scene took
shape, he met and joined Nomadic Massive.
Vox Sambou and Lou Piensa, both from Nomadic Massive and producers of the
recent release, sat down with Hour to talk about the current state of hip-hop
in Montreal and the important role rap plays in movements for social change in
Haiti, Montreal and internationally.
Hour: What do some of the album titles mean?
Vox Sambou: The album name is Lakay, meaning "home" in [Haitian] Creole. The
first track is Ô Haïti, which, like other songs on the album, talks about the
contemporary social and political situation in Haiti.
Bato, another track on the album, explains the situation in Haiti that forces
Haitians to leave their home country, to travel to Miami by boat - a reality
that is very familiar to my own experience. Growing up in Limbe [over 200 km
north of Port-au-Prince], on the island's north side, many young people left
for Miami on boats and we never heard from them again.
As an album, Lakay is an answer to the question that many, many people ask,
"Vox, why is Haiti the way it is, so poor or so violent?" This album explains
Haiti's history, how many times we were colonized as a nation and how
imperialism has impacted our development. Until today we are still a nation
under occupation, since the coup d'état in 2004. Both the governments in the
U.S. and Haiti never made real moves to prevent this, or made efforts to change
the social and economic conditions that force young people onto the boats.
Experiences for those Haitians that made it to North America are never the same
as the expectations that people in Haiti [imagine] for life in the U.S. or
Lakay also features the track Article 14, that features the Narcycist from
Euphrates and also words from Noam Chomsky, who talks about how the U.S.
government under Clinton was deporting Haitian refugees back to Haiti at a time
when the country was under a violent dictator, General Raoul Cédras. At this
time, Cuban refugees were allowed to enter the U.S. quite openly, while Haitian
refugees, also trying to land in Miami, were pushed back to Haiti.
Nomadic Massive as a collective network provided much inspiration for the
album. This is my musical family and the group provided total support for the
Hour: Miami and Montreal are two centres for the Haitian diaspora - places that
thousands of Haitians have made home. I'm interested in hearing your thoughts
on the North American dream as it is imagined in Haiti and how it compares to
the reality people face upon arrival?
Vox Sambou: Haitians come to North America with a dream to make a better life
for themselves, but upon arrival for most that dream is far from reality.
Racism is a reality that all Haitians face in North America, so integrating
into a society where you face racism is difficult.
Still, many Haitians always maintain a dream to return to Haiti. I meet taxi
drivers who, after 25 years in Montreal, still think they are going to go back
to Haiti - it's a lost dream.
Many people are still nostalgic towards Haiti. People who talk about how life
would have been if they remained in their home country, rather than living the
life abroad. Everyone who leaves Haiti, even political refugees, are also
economic refugees. It is the economic situation that forces people to leave and
creates instability. Haitians would not come to North America if there were
economic justice for all Haitians.
Hour: Can you speak about how this release, Lakay, fits into Nomadic Massive as
an ensemble, which has been a key project that brings together voices from many
corners of the world here in Montreal?
Lou Piensa: For Nomadic Massive, home is nowhere and everywhere. Today many
people across the world are crossing borders, facing displacement and [...]
experiencing much more than their own city block. This global reality is
obvious to Nomadic Massive, so the music we put out and the composition of the
group represents this.
The release from Vox Sambou is another Nomadic Massive release, but Vox is the
main conductor, telling his stories and his points of view. Music is
multilingual on the album, with rapping in Spanish, English, French and Creole.
This album, and also Nomadic Massive, expresses universalism in a sense,
without falling into the conventional trap of that term, universalism meaning
that the music is about realizing that history is one, that everyone is linked
together through a common history. Take for example the track Toussaint
Louverture. He is a critical figure in Haiti's liberation, but throughout the
Americas or in Canada many don't learn about Louverture in the same way that
people understand Louverture in Haiti - as a symbol for liberation around the
world. In many history books, Haiti's real history isn't present. Louverture
Hour: How does Nomadic Massive document popular history through hip-hop?
Sambou: Within Nomadic Massive a global feeling is present - there are members
from Iraq, Chile, Argentina, Algeria and other countries. Despite coming from
so many different places we have so much in common, given the passion we have
for music, the passion we have for hip-hop, the passion we have for social
justice around the world. These things bring us together.
In my music, the challenges we face today in Haiti are present. [These are]
challenges that the media doesn't often discuss, [and they were] challenges
present for me growing-up in Haiti. For example, today, Haiti is being forced
by outside powers to completely open our borders to foreign companies, which
damages our local businesses and local economy. Haiti is a free market for many
companies, especially companies from the Dominican Republic, the U.S. and
Canada, companies who make a profit from Haiti without giving back.
Through my music I try to tell stories from the ground, stories about the
injustices that are being experienced by Haiti and Haitians today and in the
Piensa: Events in Haiti are often covered in the media with no context. Stories
of violence and kidnappings are common - however, they are told in a way that
demonizes an entire people, not in a way that explains reasons why these things
are happening in Haiti.
Many people in Haiti are trying to make change at a grassroots level, even
within a few blocks in their city - small projects not connected to the
government that are based from the ground up. Nomadic Massive is really trying
to focus on telling positive stories about what people are doing, stories on
the ways that people are working to make real change.
Hour: In Montreal, hip-hop music is ever-expanding - there are so many exciting
projects happening around the city. Also there's a trend towards more socially
conscience and globally aware hip-hop. Could you talk about Lakay within the
context of Montreal's hip-hop scene and this increasingly global nature of our
Piensa: Nomadic Massive is about realizing that we are greater than our own
experience: We are based in Montreal but we have all experienced or come from
different places in the world. Hip-hop today has grown to become a global
phenomenon and we as a group in Montreal are connected to this global hip-hop
movement. Amazing things are happening around the world through hip-hop, and
Nomadic Massive is building something to connect to that global scene.
Nomadic Massive is representing Montreal, we are from Montreal, but we operate
within a music scene that is now global. Our effort is really about bringing
people together through hip-hop, about bringing people together through music,
about being constructive across cultures.
Sambou: This album is really a reflection of Montreal, of all the people in
this city. Although the album talks a lot about events in Haiti, the album is
also inspired by many in Montreal, people's stories from around the world that
have really helped me talk more clearly about Haiti.
Montreal is lucky to have such diversity, and within the hip-hop context, music
from around the world influences our music. On this album you can feel music
from around the world, given that Nomadic Massive is representing so many
countries and cultures from around the world. Hip-hop is global, there are no
borders for hip-hop.
* For more information, check out http://www.voxsambou.com
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