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Power and Potential in Contemporary Haitian Music: Mizik Angaje, Cultural Action and Community-Led Development in Pre- and Post-Quake Port-au-Prince

  • Author(s): Dirksen, Rebecca Hope
  • Advisor(s): Seeger, Anthony
  • et al.
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Abstract

This study follows several groups engaged in the rawest form of grassroots organizing that are currently operating in zòn defavorize ("defavorized" zones) of metropolitan Port-au-Prince. Experiencing first-hand the difficulties of surviving in the overcrowded capital--which recently has meant enduring the 2010 earthquake, a cholera epidemic and flawed presidential elections--like-minded Haitians have banded together to tackle neighborhood problems by promoting social programs that simultaneously entertain music-making and community service. Such organizations include a classical music school in Cité Soleil that offers students music lessons and the chance to participate in a symphonic band as an alternative to gang involvement and drug use; a professional music theater troupe that has run intensive performance training for youth in tent cities; a hip-hop collective that has assisted U.S. deportees with integrating into Haitian society; and a rap Kreyòl group that launched a long-term project to remove trash from the streets while simultaneously releasing singles highlighting Haiti's environmental degradation. Dozens of other service-oriented cultural groups are currently active and are using music of genres ranging from rara to folkloric dance and drumming to rasin, in addition to those mentioned above, for extra-musical purposes. These groups use cultural action to address on a small scale the needs of the population that elsewhere might be met by a state with solid infrastructure. Thus, in certain contexts, cultural production provides a modest means to press for change and community development and may in fact involve efforts directed toward the reduction of violence and poverty.

The case studies I evaluate are drawn from twenty-one cumulative months of fieldwork. Ethnographic data was collected through varied research methodologies, including intensive participant observation, archival research, an extensive range of interviews conducted across a polarized class structure, and engaged ethnography research techniques. The arguments advanced in this dissertation move beyond existing scholarship concerning Haitian mizik angaje (politically and socially "engaged music"), first by employing theories connecting music and violence and second by reaching outside the field of ethnomusicology in contemplating contemporary models of grassroots development.

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This item is under embargo until December 31, 2999.