The Haitian Times
The late 1980’s and early 1990’s will be remembered not only as an epoch of deep turmoil in Haiti but as the emergence into the mainstream of Rasin or Roots music. And Koudjay was at the summit of that movement creating politically laden lyrics to satisfy the frame-of-mind of the time.
Koudjay, spearheaded by founder-lead singer Jean-Samuel Lubin, was put together in 1988. Along with Boukman Eksperyans and Kanpech, the 16-member band has received kudos for having launched and popularized the roots musical genre
Roots music, of course, is a marriage of scorching traditional African rhythms with boisterous roots rock, and was at its apogee in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Some have called it witchcraft music.
“[Even today] they take rasinn for what it’s not,” says Lubin during a parable-laced phone interview. “It’s a form of music.”
Lubin thinks that it’s mostly people who try to deny their origins who misunderstand the genre. “People would like to pretend that they’ve never drunk water from a kanari [an earthen jug]. People would like to pretend that they’ve never drunk water from a krich [a clay vase]. I feel sorry for them. They know very well what an earthen jug is and they know very well what a clay vase is.”
He adds: “Even if [someone comes from the refined] capital, never should they forget that they had a relative from the mountains.”
Roots may have had its origins in the Vodou ceremonies in Haiti’s countryside, but Lubin’s interest in music has its roots in the church, more specifically the Pentecostal church.
“I was a drummer,” says the dreadlocked forty-something Lubin. “They would say to me, ‘Don’t forget the caisse [the case].’ “That’s how I got the nickname Kessy.”
Before establishing Koudjay, Lubin who also plays the harmonica, the guitar and bongos, was a drummer for Choucoune Compa, Bossa Combo and DP Express nemesis Scorpio. At legendary bandleader Webert Sicot’s encouragement, he joined Radio Orchestre. Sicot was long dead however, by the time Lubin exploded with the ensemble.
Then the idea came to him of starting a band whose musical foundation would neither be gospel nor konpa. It would be a stew of the disdained African ritual and roots music. And thus Koudjay, which is the approximate equivalent of wild party, was born.
“Manman Poul La”, a furious, innuendo-filled, drum-concentrated song written by Lubin and released during the 1991 carnival, was the band’s coming-out song. It was a fine time for grass roots music. Political restlessness and social dissatisfaction reigned aside hope in post-Duvalierist, pre-Aristide Haiti and Koudjay’s socially-charged lyrics were welcomed by the public and carnival crowds.
While roots still draws crowds-, many doubt that it will regain the intense popularity it enjoyed a decade ago. Yet Koudjay continues to be highly regarded by world music critics and cultural-rooted music aficionados. Its path certainly hasn’t been a crystal stair. Besides the purpoted decline of rasinn, at one point, the band had to deal with the loss of two of its most talented members guitarists Réginald Eliacin and Hérard Azard. Despite these setbacks, Koudjay has remained strong. The band will be performing at the Kreyolfest on June 27 in Brooklyn. Lubin has been in Florida since mid-February. He denies that he fled Haiti because he feared reprisal from the anti-Aristide sector, as is widely speculated in the community in Miami.
He’s vague and evasive at best when the subject of about having been involved in propaganda campaigns for former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide comes up.
“Look, they ask me to do a spot, I do a spot,” he said excitedly. “In my [spots] did I say, ‘Long Live Lavalas’ or rather did I say ‘Long live Haiti?’
He has a few words for those misfortune-wishers. “They say I’m in hiding. That’s what they wish [were true]. But tell them that Kessy is not in hiding. Kessy is taking care of business.”
Lubin promises that Koudjay is reserving a flashy, driven performance for its participation in the Kreyolfest. “For those who hate me, for those who love me, I’m here to perform for them.”
“They say things are hard for musicians because they’re dying in poverty. I’m a rich man even when I’m without a penny. Even if those who would wish to kill me, kill me, I’ll still [emerge as a winner because] my voice will remain.”