In all, there will be a dozen foreign jazz artists and their bands. They are being flown to Port-au-Prince by the cultural offices of their country’s respective embassy in Haiti. There are another 13 local jazz bands and Haitian musicians from the diaspora who also will perform.
“It’s just phenomenal to see musicians from Canada to Brazil to the Caribbean, all the way from Europe; all of these people coming together to a tiny, impoverished country like Haiti to show that they can play together,” said restaurateur Miriam Padberg, whose upscale Quartier Latin restaurant in Petionville, a tony suburb above the hills of the capital, has been hosting the festival’s after hours jazz sets from the inception. “We have many talented musicians in Haiti and they are able to see...you can make a living at this. It brings a lot of hope to a different sector in Haiti that is often times overlooked.”
If New Orleans is the city where jazz was born, then Haiti is the place where it is being reborn but with a distinct Caribbean flavor. Called Creole jazz, it often joins traditional Vodou rhythms, conga drums and classical jazz chords.
“There’s a very strong cultural relationship I think with Haiti,” said Marsalis, who recently spent a week in Cuba. “A lot of New Orleanians are from Cuba and from Haiti.”
Days before his trip, Marsalis, who had never visited Haiti before, was excited. Not only was he looking forward to impromptu performances alongside local Haitian musicians, but also exploring Haitian cuisine and other aspects of the culture. He was also confident of his upcoming performances.
“It’s definitely going to be different than what they are used to,” Marsalis said before his arrival. “There will be a pulse to what we do that the people can relate to.”