Haiti's annual PapJazz Festival brings together local and international audiences for rich and diverse musical experiences.

'It's an act of resistance': Haiti's jazz festival opens in Port-au-Prince despite security challenges

This week, jazz fans in Haiti will once again gather for the 17th annual PapJazz Festival. The event draws enthusiasts from across the island, as well as international jazz aficionados. Festival organizer Milena Sandler says the gathering in Port-au-Prince is "an act of resistance" amid security and economic challenges in Haiti.

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Anyone who has been to Haiti knows that Haitian culture is immensely rich — and despite serious economic and security challenges — the arts are still flourishing.

Take, for instance, Haiti's annual PapJazz Festival.

Last year's festival drew thousands of fans. This year marks the 17th edition of the annual international jazz festival that begins on Jan. 25 and goes for four full days. The popular event draws jazz fans from all over the world from Martinique to Miami. The festival includes 42 concerts, 29 of which are free. 

The annual jazz festival draws huge crowds every year.

The annual jazz festival draws huge crowds every year. 

Credit:

Josué Azor/Courtesy of PapJazz Festival

Festival organizer Melina Sandler said they are very excited to see the festival return to Port-au-Prince after they held a festival in Cap-Haitien last year due to ongoing violence in the capital. 

The festival is international in scope, but the gathering also serves as a form of mentorship for young Haitian musicians, who get to play alongside superstars during after-hours jam sessions. 

Haitian vodou priest, dancer and singer Erol Josué and Cubain pianist Omar Sosa perform at Haiti's PapJazz Festival.

Haitian vodou priest, dancer and singer Erol Josué and Cubain pianist Omar Sosa perform at Haiti's PapJazz Festival.

Credit:

Josué Azor/Courtesy of PapJazz Festival

Despite heightened security concerns in Port-au-Prince, Sandler said the festival serves as an "act of resistance" for the people. 

"The people of Port-au-Prince need that festival. They need food, they need security. They need everything. But they also need a space of conviviality, of hope. They need to breathe. And this festival brings that to the people."

Milena Sandler, festival organizer, PapJazz Festival

"The people of Port-au-Prince need that festival. They need food, they need security. They need everything. But they also need a space of conviviality, of hope. They need to breathe. And this festival brings that to the people," she said.

Grammy award winner Cécile Mc Lorin Salvant, Haitian French American, sings at the PapJazz Festival in Haiti. 

Grammy award winner Cécile Mc Lorin Salvant, Haitian French American, sings at the PapJazz Festival in Haiti. 

Credit:

Josué Azor/Courtesy of PapJazz Festival

Over the 17-year period, the festival only got canceled twice. 

Singer and guitar player Paul Beaubrun performs at the Haitian PapJazz Festival.

Singer and guitar player Paul Beaubrun performs at the Haitian PapJazz Festival.

Credit:

Josué Azor/Courtesy of PapJazz Festival

This year, Sandler said that they are taking additional security measures by holding the festival in a hotel rather than a public space. 

"Social cohesion only happens in this country very rarely," Sandler said, but she is confident that the public will show up for jazz. 

"It's a music that that elevates you. The festival is all about that." 


Click the player above to hear the full interview with festival organizer Milena Sandler.

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