Hip-Hop in Haiti: Part 1| Ogun & Team Lobey
It's my second time in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and I'm slightly less overwhelmed than my first time--not in a bad way of course, but the sensory experience is real. After texting on my US Verizon iPhone tethered to a European iPhone with a Haitian SIM card creating a hotspot, I finally get the address, scratch that-- a location--scratch that-- a general area, that I've been waiting for. "In the Champ de Mars, past the theatre, the first street on your right, its a big red gate at the end of the road, that's the studio," wrote Ogun.
Later on that night I asked one of the guys at the studio how to spell the neighborhood where we were "Champ De Mars" so I could text a friend the location. He spelled out "C-H-A-N-N-M-A-S." I was so confused, I said "Champ de Mars?" "Ya, Channmas" was the reply. I learned some Kreyol.
Tony Mix with Ogun and engineer.
The newly constructed Best Western in Port-au-Prince has a rooftop bar/club/music venue, which along with the Marriott Hotel just opening recently, is a big deal (for some ) in Haiti both what it means economically for tourism and in news/media portrayal of progress and reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake. Recently Haiti has been covered inTravelers Mag, NYT, Frommers, etc although still as a sort of "risky-undiscovered-pioneer" travel destination. But you can feel it, its poised, there is money flowing everywhere, new buildings, remittances, Haitians who lived in the US and abroad coming back and building, starting businesses, getting into politics. Yet the visual signs of poverty remains so intense and present.
After physically bumping into this dude next to me several times while enjoying the soulful sounds of Belo, (see video below)
who was singing live on the stage, I said something resembling "C'est bon" pointing to the singer. The dude next to me, Ogun, responded "Ya man, I'm going to be singing on that stage next week!" Naturally the conversation turned towards music, turns out he is a local hip hop artist from Port-au-Prince. We agreed to meet up in the next few days and maybe shoot something, maybe in the studio. His phone beeped and he got a message with Arabic letters. I knew there is a population of Lebanese in Haiti, and i asked, are you Lebanese? He replied, "Naw I'm Haitian dog."
The studio was housed in a sterile feeling, recently constructed hangar-style production building, with high cielings and garagedoors, and it's used for car commercial shoots, things like that. The feeling of the place is the polar opposite of what I've experienced the rest of my time in Haiti. Its cold, empty, sterile, and quiet. When I arrive Ogun is on the board mixing in some last minute ad libs and voice sections for a new track. The difference between the ~85 degree humid night air and the 60 degree air conditioned studio is stark, but welcome, until you need to go back outside. I was half-expecting a blunt- smoke filled studio with 15 guys crowded shoulder to shoulder contributing to the creative process just through their very presence, but this was business. There was a small entourage and maybe some weed smoke outside, but it was a serious environment, I sensed a time crunch with releasing the song, which Ogun later confirmed.
Ogun running the session
(above) Pooh Bear in the booth (below) Tony Mix and Red Hat the engineer
After finishing his cousin Jean's ad-libs, the door opens and with the wave of hot humid air comes two of Haiti's biggest names and their entourage, Pooh Bear and DJ Tony Mix. I've seen Pooh Bear on billboards advertising Prestige Beer all over the city, his channeling of a Rick Ross image is pretty noticeable. Tony Mix is a radio DJ but also spins all the biggest parties, my friends told me "he fuck all di girls, all over Haiti." Pooh is first to go into the booth after vibing to the song in and spitting some
ideas both from his phone and improvising off the top of his head. It's a good track, it has a crazy energy, kompa, reggaeton, dancehall vibes, something trappy about it too. "This is a new kind of music for Haiti," Ogun says, "No one is doing stuff like this, mixing the old the new, all these different artists on one track."
Pooh Bear wraps up his verse and Tony Mix heads into the booth. This is the fastest session I've ever seen. Pooh Bear is ready to leave, he listens to a rough mix of his verse, does a little celebration, says his goodbyes, and is off into the night. "The song drops next week, then we go to Miami to shoot a video, its gonna be dope man. This video gotta be shot in Miami we can't do this one in Haiti." Ogun exclaims. Most of the cats in the building speak English pretty well, several are fluent. One guy hears I'm from Philly and immediately pulls out his PA drivers license. "I live in New York but I have my car registered in PA because the insurance is cheaper."
WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW:
To Be Continued.
Next Post: Haiti Through Hip-Hop: Part 2 | DUTTY of BPC & Tapaje Records