Music
4:15 pm
Mon June 10, 2013

The Creole Choir Of Cuba: Reviving Caribbean History In 'Santiman'

Originally published on Tue June 11, 2013 8:11 am

It might come as a surprise to learn that people of Haitian descent are the largest ethnic minority in Cuba. But that's the history behind The Creole Choir of Cuba, a vocal and percussion ensemble that performs songs about history, faith and social change in the Caribbean.

The choir consists of six women and four men, who sing in tribute to the migrations of their ancestors. On their new album, Santiman, the choir delves into the intertwined histories of Cuba and neighboring Haiti.

There are clear echoes of Christian church music in "Juramento," an arrangement of a Cuban folk song. But elsewhere, the focus shifts to pre-Christian sources, as in "Simbi," an ode to a Haitian spirit. The percussion and lead male vocal evoke the feeling of a Haitian Voodoo ceremony, with ties to ancient spiritual practices in West Africa.

The history of Haitian immigration to Cuba goes back to the Haitian Revolution more than 200 years ago. It was only in the 1990s, however, that The Creole Choir of Cuba made the short trip to its ancestral home. Its members have since returned often, particularly in the wake of Haiti's devastating earthquake. The song "Pou Ki Ayiti Kriye?" asks how such a beautiful country has to suffer so much.

The Creole Choir of Cuba has matured artistically since its first international album, Tande-La. Santiman has a satisfying flow from celebration to solemnity, nostalgia and even playful humor; the Haitian folk song "Panama Mwen Tonbe" pokes fun at a horseman whose Panama hat has blown off in the wind.

A dash of trumpet here and piano there add welcome texture to the group's sound. In the end, though, it's all about the vocals — clear, strong, committed and deeply informed by Caribbean history.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Creole Choir of Cuba performs songs about history, faith and social change in the Caribbean. Members of this vocal and percussion ensemble are known in Cuba as The Descendents. Their music recalls Haitian ancestors who were brought from West Africa as slaves. Banning Eyre has been listening to the Choir's new album. It's called "Santiman."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BANNING EYRE, BYLINE: The largest ethnic minority in Cuba is people of Haitian descent. That's the history behind this choir of six women and four men who sing in tribute to the migrations of their ancestors.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EYRE: There are clear echoes of Christian church music in this arrangement of a Cuban folk song but elsewhere, the focus shifts to pre-Christian sources, as in this ode to "Simbi," a Haitian spirit.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EYRE: The percussion and lead male vocal here evoke the feeling of a Haitian voodoo ceremony, with ties to ancient spiritual practices in West Africa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EYRE: The history of Haitian immigration into Cuba goes back to the Haitian Revolution over 200 years ago. But it was only in the '90s that members of The Creole Choir of Cuba made the short trip back to their ancestral home. They've since returned often, particularly in the wake of Haiti's devastating earthquake. This song asks how such a beautiful country could suffer so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EYRE: The Creole Choir of Cuba has matured artistically since their first international album. The new CD "Santiman" has a satisfying flow from celebration to solemnity, nostalgia and even playful humor. This Haitian folk song pokes fun at a horseman whose Panama hat has blown off in the wind.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EYRE: A dash of trumpet here and piano there adds welcome texture to the group's sound. But in the end, it's all about the vocals - clear, strong, committed and deeply informed by Caribbean history.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: Banning Eyre is senior editor at AfroPop.org. He reviewed "Sanitman" by The Creole Choir of Cuba. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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