November 2007

with special guests Jane Bunnett and Don Thompson
presented by Art of Jazz
November 27, 2007 Church of the Holy Trinity Toronto
Desandann Celebrate Their Haitian musical heritage
by Tova G. Kardonne with photo by Roger Humbert
Frozen audience members trickled into the Church of the Holy Trinity in layers of winter fuzz, to sit hushed in the vaulted church while the green room filled with sound and heat, as the lightly and colourfully clad choristers warmed up their tropical pipes. The division didn’t last, of course. By the end of the first number, the audience was as warmed up as the performers were, and every subsequent number garnered whistles and stamps.

In collaboration with Don Thompson and Jane Bunnett, and presented by Art of Jazz, Desandann performed for the third time in Canada last Tuesday November 27, 2007. As an a cappella choral group, their mandate is to preserve and celebrate the Haitian musical heritage in Cuba, and is peopled with the descendants — the Desandann — of Haitians brought to Cuba as slaves. In the continuum of Afro-Cuban musics, this stuff is heavily on the Afro side, and what a treat to hear it. The clear, perfect cadences, and focussed arrangements, though somewhat obscured by the echoing acoustics of the church hall, showcased the wide range of vocal types in the group. From the basso profundo and the smoky tenor sounds that evoke Ladysmith Black Mambazo, to the operatic soprano and brassy alto voices that point to several sides of the Spanish cultural influence in Cuba, every voice shone at the moment it was called for.

The repertoire was equally mixed. The more Haitian/African songs often included an element of dance. These were sometimes sung in the French patois that is quasi-comprehensible to francophones of flexible ear, which was an added plus since the introductions were translated instantly from Spanish. The church hall echoes, unfortunately, obscured both the Spanish explanation and the English translation of it, so it was lucky for me that some of the French words came through to clue me in as to what was being sung about. A particular favourite from that type was a song about the sun, “Homenay a soleil.” The several movements of that tune followed the sun in its journey through the day, beginning with a stellar solo vocal to depict the sun’s rising, and concluding with a big party to send the sun to its rest. From the more African side of the spectrum were crowd-pleasing Merengue rhythms such as “Marasa Elu”, which included conga drumming and percussion. It seems almost unnecessary to explain how groovin’ the rhythm-section vocals were, how exciting the solo work. The clapping, laughing people, one of whom got up and danced with the singers during the final number, seemed a million miles away from the dreary winter weather on the other side of the wall.

With a couple of jazz standards thrown in, the evening was complete and gorgeous. Desandann has been around in Cuba for thirteen years, and they are doing something genuine and beautiful in continuing to create this music. May their returns to Toronto be frequent and well attended!

We welcome your comments and feedback
Tova G. Kardonne
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Roger Humbert
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The Live Music Report

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