The Humpty Dumpty Institute sponsored its first public diplomacy program in the Caribbean with hip-hop artist Maya Azucena and her three piece band performing and doing outreach in Haiti (Christian Ver Halen, Ivan Katz and Antwan Le Var Barrett).The group arrived in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on Saturday, January 17. The program started the following morning with a visit to Croix des Bouquets, a cultural site in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince, followed by workshop at the FiArts music school. The FiArts Foundation opened this school to train and educate young people and children in orphanages in the fields of the arts, such as the dance, music, plastic art and theater. The group then returned to Hotel Karibe, where they were staying, for a sound check and an evening performance.
On Monday, January 19, Maya and the band traveled to Leogane for site visits, workshops and small performances at an orphanage. After visiting Ayiti Ressurect Foundation sites Maya wrote “Leogane was a special experience because my Haitian friends in Brooklyn helped to found Ayiti Resurrect, an NGO that collaborates with the people of Leogane to empower them as they rebuild and heal in the wake of the devastating earthquake of 2010. We were able to see the fruits of their work which included farming, reforestation, collectives of artists, sustainable architecture, solar power, education and more. After a thorough walk-through and an opportunity to build with local leadership, my band joined me in giving an energetic workshop to the school children.”
The following day the group went to Jeremie, dubbed the Haitian city of the poets, for outreach events, meetings with students and a performance. Maya said her favorite moment was the workshop at Lycée des Jeunes Filles school. The workshop was open to the young teen students, as well as a women’s leadership group and small group of men who were local musicians and music lovers. Maya said the chairs were all full, but what was notable is the way the students gathered around the building, peeking in the shutters and standing in the stairwells listening to the songs and message. By the end, the room became utterly full of girls in yellow uniforms who had poured in the doors to witness the workshop. The girls roused to gleeful shrieks and cheers, and by the end, the workshop likened more to a rock concert.
On Wednesday, January 21, the group returned to Port-au-Prince and after a short break at the hotel visited the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA ) which aims to promote leadership roles of women and girls in Haiti by hosting workshops, educational training sessions and motivational events and also addressing domestic violence issues. At the “Y” Maya spoke with young women about “discovering one’s super power”. She shared her own discovery, that music is her super power. She also shared her experience overcoming an abusive relationship, and ways in which she found strength to tell her story and to help others through music. By the end of the program a room full of young women was up, energetically choreographing and dancing to Maya’s song Dance Revolution. This song was written in support of One Billion Rising, the international campaign to end domestic violence.”
The following day included a press conference at the hotel and performances at Café des Arts. On the final day of the program, January 23, Maya and the band hosted a workshop at FOKAL (http://www.fokal.org/en/) for a large group of musicians. FOKAL is a local civil society organization which works to promote access to education, community libraries, arts and culture for Haitian youth. This program was part of The Haiti Jazz Foundation’s mission to promote access to musical performances and workshops around the country. Maya noted that this workshop gave a great opportunity to share more detailed vocal and musical technique, as well as a moment to explore their approach to songwriting and empowerment via storytelling in a song. Before the final performance, the group got to visit FACDIS, a local NGO committed to promoting equality and rights of women marginalized because of their sexual orientation.
The highlight of the groups visit was a performance at Place Boyer, which was summed up in Maya’s blog “Most powerful for me, was the last concert of the tour at Place Boyer on January 23rd. Place Boyer is a large open plaza where we had our only free-to-public concert in Port Au Prince. For an audience of thousands, we offered a concert that called everyone to be in one accord with great hope for the rebuilding and healing of Haiti. In the wake of the earthquake and in light of rampant poverty, this was a message that was sincerely felt. During my concert we presented a song I wrote in tribute to Haiti, “I Made a Difference,” and during this song invited two talented teen performers from the local Konbit Mizik foundation to join us on stage. 18-year old rapper, Fenomen, and 19-year old singer, Double J, joined us in proving that music is a universal language. After Fenomen and Double-J performed in Kreyole, we invited the audience to do a call-and-response with us. 19-year old Double J sang “Ayiti!” and a roar of thousands sang back at us, “AYITI!” This final concert ended with my only cover song of the show, Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” to which the entire crowd sang along. It was an uplifting week and it was truly an honor to have been invited as a cultural ambassador from the U.S. to Haiti.”