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In 1973 a group of young artists from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, formed La Troupe Makandal, naming it after a renowned eighteenth-century revolutionary and mystic. They created a repertory that drew from Haiti’s revolutionary legacy, and from oral tradition around the figure of their namesake. The company left Haiti in 1981 and regrouped in New York City, where it attracted new artists, both Haitians and friends of Haiti who are inspired by the company’s dedication to black history and culture. La Troupe Makandal incorporated in the State of New York in 1984 and won its not-for-profit status a year later. The company has distinguished itself in the United States for its theatrical representations of Vodou, a powerful but poorly understood form of Afro-Haitian spirituality. Under the direction of Master Drummer Frisner Augustin, an NEA Heritage Fellow (1999), the company has produced performances that link Haitian history and culture, challenge ingrained stereotypes, and preserve and develop the remarkable music and dance traditions of Haiti and the Haitian community of New York City.
La Troupe Makandal channels the power of traditional Afro-Haitian music and dance to represent Haiti’s history and culture in theaters and schools. Much of the company’s repertory derives from the sacred music and dance of Vodou, widely known in the United States as “voodoo,” a term loaded with mis-conceptions that generate mis-representations of Haiti in the mainstream culture. The Troupe’s performances and workshops educate, entertain, and heal racial and cultural divisions. La Troupe Makandal creates dynamic music and dance experiences one does not soon forget.
Makandal Artists and Administrators (in alphabetical order)
Photos of Frisner Augustin and Kesler Pierre by Tom Pich
Photo of Marc Etienne by Koichiro Saito
Augustin (Artistic Director/Master Drummer) was born in Port-au-Prince,
Haiti, where he studied ritual drumming in the temples of Vodou. In
1972 he emigrated to New York, where he established himself as a master
drummer in Vodou rituals, as a performer for Haitian community festivals,
and as a drum instructor. In 1981 Mr. Augustin took over the direction
of the company La Troupe Makandal. His recordings with the Troupe
(A Trip to Voodoo, Erzili, and The Drums of Vodou) feature his settings
of traditional Afro-Haitian dances. He has recorded as well for jazz
artist Kip Hanrahan and for the soundtrack of the film Beloved.
In addition to performing in theaters, galleries, festivals, and educational
venues, Mr. Augustin teaches a workshop in Haitian drumming at Hunter
College, the Krik! Krak! workshop for children at three sites
in Brooklyn, and classes and lecture-demonstrations through the Brooklyn
Arts Council and City Lore. He also works with the Haitian-American
children's dance company Tonel Lakay. Above all, his dynamic
drumming continues to tempt the spirits to the Vodou houses of New
York.Keenly aware of the negative stereotyping of Vodou, Maestro Augustin
uses his drum to recast the mystery of the religion from a positive
Because of his dedication, he received a People's
Hall of Fame award from the cultural center City Lore, and a Certificate
of Achievement from the National Coalition for Haitian Rights. In
1999 the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a National Heritage
Fellowship, this nation's highest honor in the folk and traditional
Deats (Music Director, Second Drum) began his study of Haitian
drumming and folk singing in 1984. From his classes with Master Drummer
Frisner Augustin, he joined La Troupe Makandal's ensemble, and spent
time in Port-au-Prince deepening his knowledge of Haiti's roots music.
His engagements with Makandal include such venues as The Town Hall,
Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, the American Museum of Natural History,
the Bouyon Rasin Festival in Port-au-Prince, the Banlieues Bleues
Festival in Paris, and many more.
Today, he holds a degree in music education for children from Empire
State College; he instructs children in rhythm, movement, and song
at the Rockland Conservatory of Music; and he directs his own company
for children, Ti Ayiti (Little Haiti). Director Deats drums
for the spirits in New York's Vodou houses, where he has won the respect
and recognition of the community for his devotion to the culture.
Morgan Zwerlein (Third Drum), the newest member of Makandal, recently completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in Music from Hunter College, City University of New York. During his time at Hunter College, Mr. Zwerlein studied with Makandal’s Haitian Drum Workshop. He impressed the company with his quickness to learn, and when the third drum position opened, the company hired him. He has played with Makandal at Symphony Space, The Town Hall, the Tokyo Summer Festival, and many other venues.
In addition to performing with Makandal, Mr. Zwerlein drums for the Brooklyn-based Rara band Brother High, and he plays as well with the company La Troupe Zetwal. For his commitment he has earned recognition in the music community of Brooklyn, where he lives. Not least, his knowledge as a lighting, stage, and sound technician enhance his credits as a performer.
Edouard Etienne (Third Drum and Percussion),
was born in Manhattan, but he spent most of his childhood and youth
in Haiti. Returning to New York City to pursue his education, he enrolled
in International Management at Pace University, where he also joined
the Pace University Choir. After completing studies at Pace, he engaged
in social work and language instruction. Compelled by a passion for
international culture, Mr. Etienne traveled widely, studied several
languages, and continued in music by singing bass with the Riverside
Chorus Society. Inspired by his brother Donald, he returned to his
roots culture when he took up the study of traditional Haitian drumming
in 1999 with Master Drummer Frisner Augustin. His commitment to drumming
eventually earned him a place in the Makandal ensemble, and performances
in such venues as Hunter College, Princeton University, and Cornell
Pierre (Percussionist, Third Drum, and Artist), born in Port-au-Prince,
is a self-trained artist who worked for a stained glass studio in
Haiti. Since migrating to the United States, Mr. Pierre has compiled
an extensive dossier of work in and around the New York metropolitan
area. In 1997, he began to study the Haitian drum with Master Drummer
Frisner Augustin of La Troupe Makandal and went on to play third drum
and percussion with the group. Mr. Pierre has created clothing for the musicians and
props for stage sets, most notably the sacred bottles that adorn Vodou
altars. His elaborate designs derive from cosmograms traced on temple
floors during Vodou rites. Scintillating with color and movement,
they have drawn the admiration of audiences in the United States and
France. Please visit Kesler Graphic Arts, where you can walk through galleries of his photographs on Haitian themes, restorations of historical documents, and images of Makandal's work.
Dr. Lois Wilcken (Executive Director, Musicologist) has had the pleasure of researching the traditional music and dance of Haiti in Port-au-Prince and New York City's Haitian neighborhoods. In addition to administering and developing programs with La Troupe Makandal, Dr. Wilcken works for City Lore, a center for folk arts in New York City. White Cliffs Media Company published her book, The Drums of Vodou, in 1992. In 1998, University of Illinois Press published Island Sounds in the Global City, which she co-edited with Dr. Ray Allen. La Médiathèque Caraïbe has installed her exhibit, La Musique Vodou en Haiti, in its facility in Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe, and one may view an online version at www.lameca.org (click on Dossiers & Articles for French, Documentation Files and Articles for English).
Funders and Donors of Goods and/or Services
The Troupe wishes
to acknowledge the current supporters of our programs and efforts:
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