Band and film is salute to Haiti

“When The Drum is Beating” screened at Tribeca Film Fest’s Drive-In with a performance by Haiti’s most celebrated big band, Septentrional.

The weather wasn’t quite hospitable to bring out the crowd this group deserves – a tribute to one of the hemisphere’s oldest on-going big bands whose name means “to the north”.

The 20-piece band, making music for 62 years, hails from Haiti’s second largest city, the northern Cap Haitien, and played live at the second of this year’s Drive-In screenings. The band is also the main subject of the documentary When the Drum is Beating, a segment of the film screened between sets– an enticement to see it in its entirety at the Festival.

Covering Haitian music and the good, bad, and ugly of today’s Haiti, this film includes the tensions of adding new blood and creative energies of a new generation while maintaining a beloved tradition. It shares Haiti’s touristic past and doesn’t hide from current realities. When musical director Nikol Levy was asked what genre is the band, he responded, “This brings in many musical forms, it’s a fusion.”

For Haitians in their own country and in the diaspora, it is pride, escape, and appreciation and an on-going cultural institution in spite of politics, poverty, and “natural” disasters. The band also tours and gets international recognition.

The unseasonably cold night brought out the brave and devoted who bundled up in their winter ware. The Festival handed out glow sticks, which warmed up the crowd and got them into the mood of dancing or at least grooving with the music. The documentary premiered during the Festival on Monday with all band members present and will also screen on Thurs. at 10pm and Saturday at 3pm.

— Tequila Minsky


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