Issa El Saieh
Issa El Saieh - La belle époque! indeed!
Once more, after another long hiatus due to unforeseen circumstances, not ill health this time, thanks God, the Chronique musicale is back in force. And what a treat I have for you this time!
Back in 1997, well-known Haitian producer Fred Paul released a CD by one of the best known Haitian musicians, composer, writer and much more, named Issa El Saieh. Born on February 22, 1919 in Petit-Goâve, from Palestinian parents who were among the many Arabs who emigrated to Haiti at a time when many of us, readers and participants on this forum, were not even born.Once again, those of us who appreciate good , early Haitian music, may be quite grateful to Fred Paul who in the last decades, has been doing a fantastic job keeping Haitian music, both old and new, alive and kicking. He did it again a few months ago when he produced : Issa El Saieh: La Belle Époque, Vol I and II. Yes, 2 volumes of highly prized music reuniting some of the icons of Haitian musicians of the era of the Haitian Big Band sound.
Issa El Saieh was a real believer of the big band sound. You just have to listen to his music as a testimony of this. His genius was that he took Haitian music to its highest level by modernizing it, while at the same time introducing Haitian folklore in every aspect of his music. Songs like “Fèy Nan bwa”, “Makaya”, “Fèy” and so many more are an absolute delight to listen to. The 2 volumes comprise 30 songs by this fantastic Band leader, innovator, visionary, you name it. I am running out of terms to describe him. I have written elsewhere in these Chroniques that today’s Haitian musicians, the so-called New Generation groups, everyone, would do well to go back, listen and learn abot some serious harmony and arrangementsto what our music sounded like in terms of arrangements, harmony, structure. Listening to Guy Durosier, Raoul Guillaume, Ernest “Nono” Lamy, Bebo Valdes, is a real delight to your ears! Fred Paul has provided a good reference material which I hope will frequently consulted by our musicians of today.
El Saieh’s band was comprised of some of the greatest names in Haitian musical history. Apart from those I cited above, hre are some oher names: Joe Trouillot, Raymond Baillergeau, better known as the famous “Ti Roro”; Marcel Jean known as “Ti marcel” – both of them probably the best Haitian conga players of the time - , Herby Widmaier; René Dor, the great Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés and many many more. As you listen to this music, you better understand the tight bond between Haitian and Cuban music, a bond that was never broken even after the dictator Duvalier cut diplomatic relations with Cuba. Cultural ties however always remained strong.
This 2-volume CD is important for two reasons. Not only is the music unique and represents a fitting monument to this great pioneer of Haitian music, but it constitutes a frame of reference for today’s musicians, whatever the age. In fact, age should not be a factor, as Saieh’s music remains as vital and vibrant as ever. The liner notes on these CDs offer invaluable historical information on Maestro Saieh. Written by Louis Carl St Jean, an extremely valuable source of information on our music and musicians, and Mats Lundahl, an economist who has written extensively on Haiti, the story gives an extremely interesting account of the evolution of Issa El Saieh and describes his contribution to Haitian music. This is precious reference material, which makes it doubly important that you obtain your copies at your CD store.
Ten years after the release of “Issa El Saieh et son orchestre”, Fred Paul has greatly contributed , with this new release, to keeping alive the memory of this “Belle Époque” of Haitian music, an era of creativity, of harmony, of solid musicianship, all that thanks to Issa El Saieh who certainly belongs to the virtual Hall of fame of Haitian artists. This is a CD that every Haitian should have at home and listen time and again, catching something new at every audition. Issa El Saieh’s music is that rich and that much full of nuances and harmony. My hats off to Fred Paul!
For Windows on Haiti, May 2007