In mizik rasin – Haitian roots music – lyrics play as prominent a role as the melodies or infectious rhythms. The members of Tjovi Ginen, who perform at the House of Blues on Sunday, have been driving home that point ever since they got together in 1993. “The spoken word is the essence,” said vocalist Daniel Laurent.
For Laurent, who writes many of the group’s lyrics, those words are informed by his own experiences as a native Haitian who has spent more than two decades living in America. So inspiration comes from both the police beating of Abner Louima in New York and Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s return to power in Haiti.
It’s a dual perspective that Laurent believes “is very crucial for the voice and the music. It’s also the essence of the music, which is to express what’s happening in the community, which to some degree is borderless.”
The 34-year-old Laurent, who now teaches in a middle school in the Bronx, moved to the Boston area from Haiti with his family when he was 11. He attended Cambridge public schools, the University of Massachusetts at Boston and, for graduate school, Harvard University. It was while he was in this area that he became immersed in the Haitian music scene, helping form Batwel Rada, one of the city’s busiest roots bands during the ’80s.
“I grew up writing poetry,” Laurent said, “even though I also grew up doing Haitian roots music. That was my voice.”
The 11-member Tjovi Ginen – which roughly means children or spirit of Africa – has a new disc out this spring as a follow-up to its most recent CD, Tjovi Ginen, Tjovi Ginen (SWS Records). The band also has a politically tinged single due out later in January, 01, 01, and a song about to be entered into Haiti’s upcoming carnival.
“We work on the music of the street,” Laurent said, who added that he often employs ironies in his lyrics. “Usually they’re not in melodic form. It’s more spoken word as part of the conversation between people.”
“When things are happening in high places, in governments for example, you have the best interpretation of events in the street. People hear things and go, `Oh, this is so and so doing so and so.’ Short, to the point, nondiplomatic, that’s it.”
“The words are very important.”