About this Piece
My journey to Fanm d’Ayiti started in late 2015, shortly after the passing of my maternal grandmother. She and I spent many a cherished moment underneath the mango and coconut trees in her yard in Haiti—and in my childhood home in America—singing songs with one another. It was our way of telling each other stories, and her way of passing on a centuries-long cultural practice of oral history. She taught me to embrace and share my heart freely through song, without fear of judgment.
Her absence ignited a deep desire for understanding in me. In what ways did our voices connect with the voices of other Haitian women? What did our songs tell us about our past, and what might they mean for the future?
The foundation of Fanm d’Ayiti began to reveal itself readily through conversation: with my family, and with others willing to share their piece of our cultural puzzle. These exchanges led me to learn about dozens of Haitian female artists, each committed to carrying forward the story of the first free black republic—people known for making treasured somethings out of nothing. These women used their voices to uplift future generations by celebrating our strength.
In Fanm d’Ayiti, I share recordings from my conversations with three women: Emerante de Pradines, a prized voice of Haiti’s Golden Age; Milena Sandler, daughter of the late, famed chanteuse Toto Bissainthe; and celebrated vodou songstress Carole Demesmin.
These voices and my grandmother’s are intertwined with recordings of the girls’ choir from my family’s farming village of Dantan, sending their voices into heaven with hope for tomorrow. I feel lucky to be joining my voice with theirs, bringing listeners a sonic portfolio of my originals and arrangements of historic Haitian songs, woven together in a musical celebration of activism and hope.
The entrance to my grandmother’s yard was a beautiful archway of red hibiscus flowers—her favorite, and a national emblem of Haiti. Walking through that archway into her light was a rite of passage. This work has also welcomed me into a space of self-discovery and historical reckoning, guided by the irrepressible spirit of my ancestors… a revelation now given voice through Fanm d’Ayiti. —Nathalie Joachim