I did not know enough about this legend to be conducting the interview; therefore I reached out to my colleague, a legend on his own in the Haitian media, my good friend Ralph Delly to help me with the interview, he did not hesitate for one second. He did a wonderful job, as you are about to read below:
HB- Hi! Ti Ra, How do you describe yourself as a musician?
RDJ- Hello HB!I would say that I am a multipurpose musician. Due to my academic formation and my experience in various fields of music, I can play as a cellist in a symphonic or chamber orchestra as well as a keyboard player in any popular music combos, particularly Haitian music (which is not only Kompa). I’m also a songwriter and a music composer.
HB- What is your music background?
RDJ- I studied the cello since age 11. I had various scholarships, particularly in Bogota, Colombia, where I studied music theory, harmony and counterpoint besides of cello master classes. I studied also techniques of commercial music and followed the American Helen Hobbs Jordan music method at the Haitian American Academy of ballet and arts, with Professor Eileen Herzog.
I played about 20 years as 1st cellist at the Pro-Musica chamber orchestra. I studied the piano with my mother Professor Micheline Laudun Denis since age 6, but I wasn’t a good piano student. That’s why my parents decided to direct me to the study of Electronic organ at age 13, following the new Yamaha Electone method where I found more interest because of the wide variety of popular music that I could learn and play with this new coming instrument. And up to now, for around 40 years I have performed as a keyboardist with various popular Haitian bands and solo artists.
HB- Who are your musical influences?
RDJ- Classical, Rock, Jazz, R n b, pop, Latin Jazz, Cuban music, African music, Oriental music, French music and of course Haitian music of all categories.
HB- What genre of music do you consider your work to be?
RDJ- I could consider my work to be in 2 categories: One is Haitian popular/dance music (Kompa). The second one would be OST music especially written for some movies and for Haitian Folkloric Ballet.
HB- We haven't heard a song by you for quite some time; does music take a backseat to your life now?
RDJ- Information about my activities might not have reached you by lack of promotion! In fact, my latest personal release was in Jan. 2006, a Cd intitled “Gloire à Adonaï”, a Christian album recorded with the live voices of the choir of Maison du Silence a Mason Temple in Haiti. (Available online at Loungekreyol.com) It was a new and really good experience.
The same year, I released Tezin, a complete folkloric ballet music especially written for Nicole Lumarque’s Ballet Folklorique d’Haiti, BFH. Afterwards, for 8 months, I co directed with my friend Joel Widmaier the adaptation of the Haitian version of famous Luc Plamondon’s Rock Opera “STARMANIA”, produced by “Haiti en Scène”. It was the first ever of such a big production with around 40 young Haitian singers, dancers and musician. It has been performed 11 times – standing ovation – in Montreal last year, at La Tohu. (Pls. search it on the web) Meanwhile, Joel and I started with our long dreamed project, the return of our band Zèklè. And since Dec 1st 2007, we dedicated ourselves to various big productions and Festivals.
HB- What has been your biggest challenge as a Haitian musician? Have you been able to overcome that challenge? If so, how?
RDJ: In fact I consider my whole life as a big challenge with both failures and victories!
As a Haitian musician, I had various “biggest” challenges!
* Writing music for several complete Folkloric Ballets was one of them. I wrote 6 ballets and each one has around 17 to 18 different tunes, each tune for targeted scenery.
* Making the whole musical arrangement for Christian songs on a live pre-recording was another challenge.
* Co-directing and adapting all this STARMANIA Rock Opera into Haitian flavor and rhythms was also one.
* To come back with Zekle after so many years and co direct with Joel all the rehearses during 7 months before our 1st Flashback concert was also a wonderful one…
* And the 2 challenges for which I will never give up and for which I am still fighingt in my country are:
1. The Haitian Society of Copyright. (I may consider the actual Bureau Haitien du Droit d’Auteur as a big failure. But this is another story…politically speaking…)
2. The National Academy of Music.
HB- You were once involved in a deadly car accident, can you tell us what happened?
RDJ: This was a very sad and desperate moment in my life. I don’t want to talk about it. The only thing I would like to tell to all your readers especially the young ones: Don’t drink and drive. Or better: Don’t drink at all!
HB- What's your lecture of the actual state of Haitian music, especially Compas?
RDJ: There is a resurgence of old bands. Zekle – Gypsies – Bossa – Oxygene/DP and more to come. Because of the lack of musical education, young bands have not a lot to say in Kompa music. Once one band gets some originality, all other competitors copy it. On another hand, the musical production is very poor. Radio animators don’t make big efforts to present other styles of Haitian music to their audience. Most of them just play the hit songs and invade the air play with hip-hop/rap styles, national and from the States, whatever the quality and/or the rating of the lyrics contents. The emergence of new Haitian Hip-hop seems to be well accepted only by the youth, as if they were rejecting Kompa. The Haitian audience and music consumer are losing their references and are saturated by the same tunes played on TV or radios. This is the reason why I think that such a positive welcome back has been given to Zekle, for example. Music is changing around the world, it’s a fact. But Kompa music doesn’t seem to take the “A” Train. And the guilt is certainly not only for the young musicians but for the entire professional environment instead:
Radio/Tv new generation of “animateurs” who better involve themselves in monkey business or trying to nourish their egos instead of looking for the music quality in the wide Haitian and all age repertoire available
Promoters who want to be more superstars than the artists and doing “whatever” in the industry;
· Haitian officials who don’t give a d… about our artistic production/education and seem to encourage the “Voye Monte” style when it’s about Music Industry/orientations, etc. No National Plan for Music Industry
· The young musicians or “said” musicians themselves, caring more about their stardom than the quality of their music repertoire and/or respect of their audience.
… And so on…
HB- Could you mention any of your favourite artist that you really like?
RDJ- Well…let’s try: My # 1 by far is Pat Metheny.
Angelique Kidjo – Youssou N’Dour - Yo Yo Ma – Keith Jarret – Diana Krall - Michael Jackson – Stevie Wonder – Beyonce –Marc Anthony – Juan Luis Guerra – Chichi Peralta – Gonzalo Rubalcaba –
Haitian and Caribbean:
Mushy & Joel Widmaier – Romel & daughter Victoria Joseph (violinists) – Micheline Laudun Denis - Réginald Policard – Welmyr Jn-Pierre – Dener Seide – Makarios Cesaire - Nicky Prud’Homme – Azor – Arus - Emeline Michel – Boulo Valcourt – Kino - Beethova Obas – Fabrice Rouzier – BelO – Alan Cavé – Mika Benjamin – Nia – Tania St-Val – Mario Canonge – Polo Rosine(RIP) – Pipo Martelly (Kassav)
HB- Could you share a story behind the making of “Sukaïna”?
RDJ- It was really a song composed for my daughter’s birth Sukaïna. However I never thought that it would be THE Hit Song and reach International hit lists! “Mizikasyon” was the album title and the song that I had choosen to be the hit song.
HB- Do you currently work with other artists?
RDJ- Well… Actually I don’t work with other artists. I want to concentrate myself to Zèklè’s new projects, which means Concerts, the Flashback DVD release and a new album in the 1st quarter of 2010.
HB- We have the impression that you are leaning on television more than music, why is that?
RDJ- False. I have time for both! Go to myspace/zekle…
You hosted a TV show for kids on Telemax, what are your special interests in kids?
The whole Telemax head staff left this station in 2003 for the reasons that you know. We started over in 2006 with Canal Bleu. I still dedicate myself to kids with my daily show “Bisou Bisou”. Kids are spontaneous and real. I think that somehow this is my mission to contribute to their education thru my show, opening their minds and imagination on every interesting topic concerning the Planet Earth and the Human Race, besides of our National true Values.
HB- Any final thoughts for the HB readers?
RDJ: Thank you HB for your interest in my work. If I had any final thoughts to everyone it should be:
Never refuse your Generosity. The real one. The one coming from your heart. The one inspired by your soul, which means connected to God. And this always starts by… a smile!
HB- Thank you for your time Ti Ra