For anyone who listens — and dances — seriously to music in Miami, Boukman Eksperyans conjures thoughts of upbeat folk-rock rhythms met by socially conscious lyrics. This has been the legendary group’s signature sound for three decades and never fails to get the crowd jumping. Boukman will headline Friday’s Big Night in Little Haiti concert (it’s free!), held at the Little Haiti Cultural Center (212 N.E 59th Terr., Miami), from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m.
The Grammy nominated, 12-member roots ensemble was formed in 1978 by lead singers Lolo Beaubrun and his wife, Manze. The husband and wife duo named the band after Haiti’s greatest architect of social change, Dutty Boukman, a leader of the country’s successful slave revolt. As Haiti’s most highly acclaimed roots band, Boukman stays true to its protest lyrics and continues to pull musical inspiration from Haiti’s traditional culture — a sound that has been labeled “voodoo rock.” While the music has evolved, “the message is stronger,” says Lolo, through his translator and Miami representative, Jimmy Moise. “The message has changed for the people.”
Lolo spoke to us from his hilltop home near Port-au-Prince, about the group’s legacy and why performing in Miami is special.
Q: What is the sensation that you feel when playing in Miami?
I have a lot of friends here. We get a lot from the crowd with the ambience. In Miami, I feel like I am still in Haiti. Because of the Haitian population that lives there, you feel the vibration. They are waiting for us and it’s a pleasure for us to play for them. It’s a very important meeting.
Boukman Eksperyans tours internationally, but how do you spend your time in Haiti these days?
We rehearse. I have a new cultural affairs foundation [that helps showcase some of the best artists in Haiti]. You know in Haiti there are a lot of talented people. This is work that the government should do, but they don’t.
What were some of your most memorable performances in Miami?
There are two. One in 2000 by Operation Green Leaves and another one organized by Island Records. I will never forget them. But you know every concert is important for us. It’s like a ceremony. They can receive the social message we are passing on. That’s like with every concert.
What inspires the group’s sound?
We have many inspirations from our culture. We have voodoo music, Native American [music] and we have world rhythms incorporated. It’s a fusion of different sounds. I’ve also loved Jimi Hendrix since I was 12. Those people have an influence on our music. I discovered James Brown at four years old through my father. I also love Stevie Wonder. These are legends. But overall, Boukman Eksperyans is an experience of unity, so we fuse Creole and some rock, jazz and music from different cultures.
What is your vision for Boukman Eksperyans in, say, five or ten years?
For us to continue the spiritual evolution. For the message to go out to as many people as possible. For us to stand on our principle. So that’s what we are working for. We are going to make a social economic change.
Big Night in Little Haiti is a free event held every third Friday of the month, produced by The Rhythm Foundation and the Little Haiti Cultural Center, 212 NE 59 Terrace. The event showcases local bands and big name Haitian artists alike. In addition to live, open-air concerts under the stars, the event features gallery exhibits, open studios, food vendors and arts and crafts for children.
A version of this story appears in the Miami New Times