News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Tues. Jan. 30, 2024: In a remarkable show of resilience, Haiti’s capital played host to the “PAPJAZZ” music festival this week, drawing hundreds of concertgoers back to the event for the first time since 2021. The festival, known for its international jazz acts, made a triumphant return, albeit with significant modifications and stringent security measures, all within the backdrop of the city’s dire security situation.
Festival organizer Milena Sandler speaks during the international jazz festival (Papjazz) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on January 27, 2024. (Photo by RICHARD PIERRIN/AFP via Getty Images)
The 2022 edition of the festival had been postponed due to security concerns, leading to its relocation to the northern city of Cap-Haitien in the preceding year. Port-au-Prince, the country’s capital, had been grappling with alarming levels of gang control, with reports suggesting that these criminal groups held sway over as much as 80 percent of the area, according to the United Nations.
Haitian musician Cisco performs during the international jazz festival (Papjazz) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on January 27, 2024. (Photo by RICHARD PIERRIN/AFP via Getty Images)
Milena Sandler, one of the festival’s organizers, expressed the sentiment of defiance, stating, “This is the festival of resistance to everything that’s happening, our way of saying that we believe — and want to move forward.” She added optimistically, “The city is not dead despite everything.”
Haitian musician Erol Josué performs during the international jazz festival (Papjazz) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on January 27, 2024. (Photo by RICHARD PIERRIN/AFP via Getty Images)
Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas, had been embroiled in turmoil for years, with the rise of armed gangs contributing to widespread violence, economic turmoil, and a crumbling public health system. A recent report by the United Nations revealed a disheartening surge in homicides and kidnappings in the country.
In response to the ongoing security challenges, the 2024 PAPJAZZ festival was significantly scaled down, lasting for just four days instead of the usual eight. Concerts were held exclusively in a relatively secure residential neighborhood. Stages were set up outside the Karibe Hotel, a location that also houses UN offices. Security was ensured by a combination of volunteers and national police officers.
Haitian musician Jah Nesta performs during the international jazz festival (Papjazz) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti on January 27, 2024. (Photo by RICHARD PIERRIN/AFP via Getty Images)
Despite the challenging circumstances, the audience, primarily consisting of expatriates and middle-class Haitians, enthusiastically danced and sang each night. Local “Rara” carnival music filled the gaps between performances, adding a unique Haitian flavor to the event.
Esmeralda Milce, a spectator with a background in marketing, commented, “Despite the challenges, the festival bears witness to an impressive resilience. It’s a celebration of Haitian cultural richness.” Milce expressed her excitement about seeing Haitian artist Beethova Obas, whom she hadn’t seen perform in over a decade. “People are in a festive spirit,” she added.
The festival featured a diverse lineup of performers, including foreign artists like Cameroon-born American Richard Bona and Frenchman Ludovic Louis, as well as Haitian musicians from within the country and the diaspora.
According to the Haiti Jazz Foundation, which organized the event, PAPJAZZ saw between 550 and 850 guests attending each evening from Thursday to Saturday, Jan. 27th. Meanwhile, emerging musicians performed at free “after-show” concerts held in three restaurants in the Petion-Ville neighborhood, attracting significant crowds.
Notably, the free concerts that would typically take place in public squares and universities were excluded from this year’s festival, reflecting the organizers’ determination to navigate the challenging security environment while still celebrating the vibrant spirit of Haitian jazz and culture.