The Creole Choir of Cuba - Desandann

Photo by Sven Greutzmann

On tour Jan - Feb 2011

Barbican Hall

8 Feb 2011







A review by Bernie Whelan for EXTRA! EXTRA!

The main auditorium in the Barbican Arts Centre is huge and it was packed, but still feeling like a drab conference hall, until the lights went down and The Creole Choir of Cuba or Desandann (The Descendants) brought all the vitality of the Caribbean sunshine along with the complex harmony and rhythm of their history and culture to the stage. These four men and six women are all classically trained singers funded by the Cuban government to develop an authentic sound representing the colonial history of Haiti with traditional Creole songs. This kind of enterprise is often worthy but deadly boring, but in singing about their own personal history of oppression with such emotional power and commitment, Desandann cannot fail to stir any audience to thoughts of freedom. The song 'Tande' denounces the misery and suffering of the Haitian people under Duvalier, but could equally evoke the passionate energy motivating protests for democracy in Egypt today. This is art which gives voice to what ideology hides - the jubilant, irrepressible spirit of a people.

Each member of this non-traditional choir has the talent and personality to charm an audience, even one this size in an impersonal venue like the Barbican, to have them on their feet singing, dancing and volunteering to join the choir on stage. Each member had an opportunity to demonstrate their own gifts, supported by the rich, generous blend of choral voices in an inspiring collective performance where the constant communication between members was intuitive, illustrating a close and ongoing artistic conversation. The soprano was as sweet as the bass voices were rich and mellow with it seemed, many voices in between, each as unique in solo as they were subtly blended in harmony. The songs in the first half told the story of colonial oppression, beginning with 'Mangaje', an account of the disorientation felt by an African slave on arrival in Haiti and finishing with 'Tande'. 'Chen Nan Ren', or 'Chains Around The Waist' was illustrated by a moving dance where the singers grasped each other's elbows, the song 'Marasa Elu' about orphaned children ended with heads leaning together in a beautiful tableau of shared sorrow.

The second half included love songs and a favourite with the audience, 'Ou Pa Nan Chaj', a humourous song about a man who has no luck with women. It didn't matter that the songs were in Creole, the expressiveness of the dance told the story just as clearly as language and added the extra dimension of live theatre to the thrilling choral music. They alternated Creole with Cuban songs, the French and Spanish influences could be heard in the language used but the mix was something entirely their own, the creative blend of cultures which produces Creole music and Salsa dancing from this region. The choir are impressively versatile, both women and men taking turns up front singing, dancing and moving back to take up the drums, with everyone taking up percussion instruments at the end. The dancing was exciting and infectious but the music above all was sublime. As a special treat for an English audience, they sang 'Unforgettable', demonstrating that with such beautiful voices, this choir can do almost anything. In the same spirit of informality and democracy, they left the stage to walk through the audience singing and shaking hands to finish.

Toussaint Louverture and the 'Black Jacobins' of Haiti emancipated themselves from slavery in the late 18th century, declaring national independence in the name of the Universal Rights of Man. They would be proud of their Haitian Desandann.


Photo by York Tillyer


Barbican Hall
Silk Street, London, EC2Y 8DS

Tickets: £10 -£20



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