Tales from the Archive: Remembering Jocelyne

Frisner popped the audiocassette into his car’s player, and the music started. “Le voix là, le voix les anges, le voix là, le voix les cieux, nous prions qui sous la terre, sous la terre comme dans les cieux, le voix là, le voix les anges.” That was Frisner himself singing lead in the opening phrases of Makandal’s first album, A Trip to Voodoo. Makandal had recorded in Queens on a frosty day in January 1982. Summer was now closing, and ayibobo! We finally had a copy, and A Trip would be released any day now. The track continued, now in Kreyòl. “Nou tout se zany o, zany anbarase mwen…” “We are all angels, oh, angels surround me…” As if on cue, at 2 min 4 sec, the voice of an angel flew in. But what an angel! Her sound carried a curious and original blend of nasal resonance and ringing solidity. “Who’s that?” I asked Frisner. “Jocelyne.” I scolded myself for noticing Jocelyne’s special talent only now, then sat back to indulge in more. Continue reading

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Tales from the Archive: My Diploma Is the Drum

In the summer of 1999 the cat was out of the bag that Frisner Augustin had won the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Frisner’s (and Haiti’s) coup inspired Jocelyn McCalla—most of us call him Johnny—to invite Frisner to his weekly TGIT. And what was TGIT? Every Thursday night during the summer the National Coalition for Haitian Rights (NCHR), which McCalla directed, held an evening gathering in its capacious Manhattan headquarters. TGIT (Thank Goodness It’s Thursday) celebrated the end of the week, albeit it a shade early. Those who attended enjoyed drinks and appetizers, banter ranging from light to challenging, the pleasure of company new and old, and a most splendid balcony view of Mr. Sun bedding down for the night over the Hudson River. Enter Frisner, diploma in hand… Continue reading

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Call the Drum Spirit Community Forum

Friday, June 24, 7 pm
The Great Room (2nd floor) of South Oxford Space
138 South Oxford Street, Fort Greene, Brooklyn (map)

Makandal presents a community brase lide (brah-say lee-day, Haitian Kreyòl for brainstorming session) led by writers, scholars, cultural activists, and artists. What is the current state of documentation of Haitian Vodou drumming? Do you feel this cultural treasure merits more attention? Given Vodou’s status as a historically persecuted spiritual tradition, what, if any, are the limits of documentation? Who should be conducting it? Where and how? What is the role of the community? What is your role? Continue reading

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Call the Drum Spirit! Rele Ountò!

The Third Annual Frisner Augustin Memorial Drum Concert

Saturday, June 25, 8 PM
Roulette, 509 Atlantic Avenue at Third Avenue, Downtown Brooklyn (map)

Bonga
Who’s Playing?
Bonga and Tiga
Makandal Drummers with Taïna Ligondé
Brother High Dreamteam Fulltempo

What’s Screening?
Video documentary on pioneering Haitian drummer Louis Celestin, by Zaka

TICKETS: Advance
$18 general  BUY
$15 students/seniors  BUY
Note: Advance sales end June 24

TICKETS: At the door
$20 general, $18 students/seniors
Age 12 and under FREE

Photo by Dawn Leikness: Bonga Jean-Baptiste, Haiti, 2009

Call the Drum Spirit Concert 2016 is funded, in part, by the National Endowment for the Arts, public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.

Featured image (visible within post) by Chantal Regnault: Frisner Augustin drumming in Battery Park, Manhattan, July 5, 1986.

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Wednesday Wonder: The Intimate Touch

From The Intimate Touch album notes:

“We can continue hearing pulses grouped in fours….Or, we can hear a shift from pulses grouped in fours to pulses grouped in threes: beginning on the second pulse of the third beat in measure 1 we hear four identical groups of three (bass-rim-rim, bass-rim-rim, bass-rim-rim, bass-rim-rim). The contrast between a heavy bass stroke and a feathery rim shot—on the pitch G4, the illusive G-spot, no doubt—reinforces the accent on every third pulse….

So which way did Frisner experience what he played? I can’t presume to know the answer, but I suspect he experienced both, and desired to use both as he plied his intimate touch in the privacy of his recording booth. After all, who knows what’s going to seduce a new listener?” Continue reading

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Wednesday Wonder: Vodou in the Voodoo Theatre*

She was planning the program with good intentions. “Do it just like you do it at home,” Verna Gillis told Frisner as we met with her in the run-up to our first performance at Soundscape, her loft in the Manhattan neighborhood known as Hell’s Kitchen. Verna presented contemporary music from around the world, and Makandal would share the October schedule with such luminaries as Roswell Rudd, Yomo Toro, Daniel Ponce, and Sun Ra.

After we met with her, Frisner told the other Makandal artists that Verna expected a staged Vodou dance. “Oh,” someone said—thinking of a rather sordid performance genre in Haiti—”she wants tourist voodoo!” Well, not exactly, no wild-eyed possessions, no rolling chicken heads. But Verna was asking us to dance on a slippery threshold. Just like you do it at home…
Continue reading

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Wednesday Wonder: A Day for Frisner, a Day for Haitian Culture

“Because of the drum, that’s why I can be here today.

“I remember the time I struggled in Haiti. A lot of people used to talk bad about the culture, the roots. But today is going to be my day, with my culture.

“All the friends I have, they’re like my family. The candle. You don’t light the candle for nothing. You light the candle for something deeply. And you don’t put water on the ground for nothing. The time I used to light the candle and look at the miwa (mirror), a lot of people thought Augustin is crazy. Augustin is not crazy. The time I come to New York, 1972, I have one candle. I light one candle. But that candle, it was my family.”

Frisner Augustin, reflecting on his life journey just after winning the National Heritage Fellowship. From the soundtrack of video shot by Kesler Pierre, September 28, 1999, in the Main State Buiding of the United States Department of State. Continue reading

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