We talk to producer Yasemin Denari Southworth about her new VICE/Thump documentary about Haitian electronic music and how it is revitalizing the developing nation

Yasemin Denari Southworth is an up and coming documentary producer and her recently released video showcases the rising popularity of the Haitian dance music scene.

Yasemin and crew headed to Haiti for a week at the end of last year to uncover the Haitian dance music scene and find out more about what makes the population such a welcoming and revitalizing group of people.

Overcoming the difficulties that have haunted the country since the earthquake in 2010, music has set many artists free, inspiring them to express themselves in new and unique ways.

It has also brought the fans together and regardless of whatever background they come from, there’s a sense of unification – an all-encompassing support system that helps the people forget about their hardships and the earthquake, and celebrate something very special.

The electronic music party scene is huge in Port-au-prince, where everyone comes together to dance and have fun.

Many of these parties feature world-renowned and up-and-coming DJs including Michael Brun, Gardy Girault, Cedric Roy, and Tony Mix, who are becoming ambassadors for the country worldwide, while also inspiring the youth of Haiti to make something of themselves.

We caught up with Yasemin and talked to her about making the documentary, the sights she saw and music she came to love.

L&T: What was the biggest challenge making the documentary?
Yasemin: From the moment I started working on this piece, I wanted to make sure that it came across as a positive and uplifting portrayal of Haiti and the Haitian people. The vast majority of media coverage about Haiti focuses on poverty, instability, and tragedy.

We’ve all seen that, and while it is true that Haiti is poor and has suffered through difficult times, there is so much more to the country’s story and people.  While I didn’t want to focus on the negative, this music movement is all the more powerful because it is blossoming in this particular setting, so it was a concern of mine to strike the right visual balance between showing the struggles the country faces and this beautiful movement that is taking place.

L&T: Do you get the sense Haiti is a third world country?
Yasemin: We generally associate “third world” with countries that are poor and struggling, and while Haiti does have hardships, I see it as a country of hopes and dreams, filled with positive and resilient people who want to band together to improve and revitalize it.

L&T: Is there any kind of social class system in Haiti?
Yasemin: Haitians are a very welcoming and accepting people. While there is a large population of poor individuals, and only a small upper class, there is not a clear line of delineation between the two, at least in terms of how they interact.

L&T: Does everyone attend the parties and are they accessible to everyone?
Yasemin: Everybody is welcome at all parties, and there are a variety of styles of electronic music parties so that anyone, regardless of background, can get involved. These parties range from massive block parties, which are generally free, all the way to very upscale events with high production value, lighting and visuals, etc., which can cost up to $80 per ticket. Promoters do their best to announce these big events months in advance so that people can save up to buy tickets.

L&T: How does the music style differ from UK/US dance? How would you describe the music style?
Yasemin: Port-au-Prince has a large community of DJs, each having his or her own style. I would say that Rara Tech, the genre of music that Gardy Girault has created and popularized, is very unique to Haiti, as it infuses what we generally think of as house music with traditional Haitian konpa and rara sounds.

L&T: How far does the scene spread around Haiti, or is it limited to Port-au-Prince?
Yasemin: At the moment, the scene is pretty much limited to Port-au-Prince. Around Carnival, some people from Port-au-Prince travel to the provinces for vacation, and sometimes Port-au-Prince DJs go and perform there as well, but outside the capital city, the appreciation for electronic music is still at a very nascent stage. In Port-au-Prince, however, the vibrant scene is alive and well.

Port-au-Prince is the kind of place where the ambient noise is music and you will see posters promoting DJ events all over the place. The popularity and influence that these DJs have is obvious. For example in Carrefour, Tony Mix’s neighborhood, there is a Tony Mix barber shop, Tony Mix cell phone store, and Tony Mix dance club.

L&T: What was the one thing you took home from your trip about Haiti or the Haitian people?
Yasemin: The desire to return. I loved the country. I loved the people I met. There’s a tangible and magnetic energy there, or at least it felt that way to me.

L&T: How can people spread the message and get involved?
Yasemin: I would love if people could share the piece as much as possible, as it is very important to me that people are exposed to this refreshing side of Haiti. I also think that people will really like the music of the Haitian DJs/Producers in the piece – Michael Brun, Gardy Girault, Cedric Roy, and Tony Mix – and spreading their music will help them to get the recognition that they deserve. I’ve created a Haitian DJ playlist on Soundcloud, which anyone can access and hear the sounds of Haiti’s dance music scene.

Find out more about Sounds of Solidarity: Haiti’s DJ Movement on JustGo.com.

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(Image credit: Breezy Baldwin/flickr)

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