She’s a coquette, a spirit woman reportedly of fair complexion, although she’s been known to inhabit every hue. When she leaves the luster and magic of Ginen to take possession of a human medium—to the heartbeat of drums, the sweet meander of melody, the seductive sway of dancing bodies—she fixes her wide and tender eyes only on the men. She’s vulnerable and prone to weep, but when you serve her with all your heart, she responds in kind with the nurturing power of love. Èzili…
Makandal dedicated its first program at Miller Theatre to Èzili (also spelled Erzili or Erzulie). It was early 1992, when we were working with a management team called Steorra (a Czech word for “stars”), and they secured the contract for us. Part of the deal was a tech rehearsal in the space, a routine we didn’t often experience at the time. Marty and Linda of Steorra worked with us on sound, lighting, and staging in fine detail. The program on February 14 went very well, not only because of the tech planning but also because the spirit was present. Frisner, long devoted to his Vodou wife, made sure she heard him. And it was actually Valentine’s Day. “Lovers Beware!” Miller’s flyer warned. “Erzili is tempting you!”
Frisner had married Èzili Freda Dawome on October 21, 1973, not quite a year after coming to New York from Haiti. His friend Oungan Mano Cadet conducted the marriage in his peristyle in the Bronx. I found the marriage certificate among Frisner’s personal effects after his passing in 2012. A wedding with a Vodou spirit follows the form of a wedding for two humans, with certificate, pronouncements, rings, champagne, and dancing. The human receives protection in exchange for devotion to the spirit. A man typically marries the two manifestations of Èzili: the sweet and romantic Freda (of Guinea Coast lineage), and the hot and combative Dantò (of Congo lineage). I assume Frisner married both, but only the certificate for Freda surfaced (shown here). The Miller Theatre program leaned heavily toward Èzili Freda because it was Valentine’s Day, and she’s the romantic. Knowing that he couldn’t snub Dantò entirely, Frisner programmed a piece for her, too, right before intermission.
See highlights of the performance below: (1) Frisner’s duo with trombonist Tim Newman on the song “Jan M Renmen Sine (“How I Love Sine”), followed by a virtuosic solo drum piece; (2) a guest performance with the late Lucienne Pierre, a.k.a. Manbo Lucienne, famous on the stage as well as in the temples of Haiti; and (3) a piece for the traditional tanbou marengwen (mosquito drum), actually a one-stringed harp. (You can see how Frisner constructed a tanbou marengwen here.)
Makandal has digitized the entire Miller Theatre program. You will see it online once we’ve completed uploading all of our holdings to a website. Remember, the archive is yours. Please help us finish by making a tax-deductible contribution here. Thank you!
Credits (from top to bottom)
Featured image: Detail from Frisner Augustin’s certificate of marriage with Èzili Freda Dawome (see third item below)
Miller Theatre’s flyer for Makandal’s performance on February 14, 1992
Scan by Kesler Pierre of Frisner Augustin’s certificate of marriage to Èzili Freda Dawome at the house of Oungan Mano Cadet, Bronx, October 21, 1973
Video of a performance of the traditional “Jan M Renmen Sine” by Frisner Augustin and Tim Newman (trombone) at Miller Theatre, Manhattan, February 14, 1992. Shot and edited by Lois Wilcken
Video of a performance of traditional songs by Lucienne Pierre, a.k.a. Manbo Lucienne, at Miller Theatre, Manhattan, February 14, 1992. With drumming by Makandal drummers, from left, Tim Newman (rattle), Paul Uhry Newman (bell), Jean Alphonse (third drum), Steve Deats (second drum), and Frisner Augustin (lead drum). Shot and edited by Lois Wilcken
Video of a performance on and with the one-stringed harp called tanbou marengwen (mosquito drum) at Miller Theatre, Manhattan, February 14, 1992. From the left, Jean Alphonse, Steve Deats, Paul Uhry Newman, and Frisner Augustin. Shot and edited by Lois Wilcken
Story by Lois Wilcken