The Creole Choir of Cuba

Cuba

The Creole Choir of Cuba are Emilia Diaz Chavez (Choir Leader), Teresita Romero Miranda, Marina Collazo Fernandez, Yara Castellanos Diaz, Yordanka Sanchez Fajardo, Irian Rondon Montejo, Fidel Romero Miranda, Marcelo Andres Luiz, Dalio Arce Luis, and Dalio Arce Vital, who sadly passed away following the recording of 'Santiman' in 2012.

The Creole Choir's ten remarkable singers come from Camagüey, Cuba's third city, down towards the eastern end of the island. They grew up and studied music in this old colonial town, designated a UNESCO World heritage Site in 2008 for its colonial architecture. The Choir celebrate the history of their Haitian ancestors - enslaved to the Caribbean from West Africa. They have nurtured music passed down in their families since the early 19th century, gradually adding modern Haitian sounds following their own first visit to a Haitian festival in 1996.

The Creole Choir's Cuban name 'Desandann' means literally 'descendents' and with songs like Tandé or Lumane Casimir they tell the stories of their Haitian ancestors who were brought to Cuba to work in near slave conditions in the sugar and coffee plantations. Desandann sing in Creole, Cuba's second language, spoken by almost a million people, a pragmatic fusion of African, French and other languages. It's the language of a people twice exiled: first to Haiti from Africa through the iniquitous slave trade; then from Haiti to Cuba tricked into second slavery by their French masters after the Haitian Revolution of 1790. Other Haitians arrived in the 20th century fleeing political upheaval, poverty and oppression during the barbaric regime of Papa Doc Duvalier which held power from the 1950s to 70s, marked by reigns of terror and the brutality of his private militia, the Tonton Macoutes.

Songs are sung in creole, Cuba's second language, first created by slaves by fusing words together words from their African languages, the Taíno language of Caribbean indigenous people, with French, Spanish and English. Creole was spoken by the choir's parents, grandparents and great grandparents, people doubly displaced, first from Africa then from Haiti. The first wave of Haitians were brought to Cuba as slaves to work in the sugar plantations of the French aristocracy who fled Haiti after the slave revolts of the 1790s. Subsequent waves of Haitians came to the island during 19th and early 20th century, and again in the 1950s during the brutal dictatorship of Papa Doc Duvalier. All lived in the countryside in conditions akin to slavery enduring harsh discrimination until the 1959 Revolution brought with it literacy, education and equality.

In January 2010, Haiti suffered an earthquake which destroyed its capital city, Port au Prince and caused 300,000 deaths. In the aftermath of this destruction, the Choir was sent as part of the Cuban recovery effort. Along with medical brigades, the Choir was asked to help keep spirits up. So they ran workshops with children and teenagers, singing and dancing with survivors of the earthquake. It was a very difficult and emotional time, but the Choir pay homage to the strength of the Haitian people in a time of great difficulty. One of their lasting memories from that time is of the laughter that still prevailed despite all the obstacle and disaster around them. It has given them an even greater sense of pride of their ancestral home.

The Creole Choir describe each of their songs as being 'like a small film' filled with vitality, humour and compassion. They tell stories of survival despite abject poverty, of heroes who defied colonial masters, of ghosts at the crossroads, of enduring love, of homesickness for family, of abandonment but never loss of hope, mother's laments and prayers, of the desire for freedom. With irresistible melodies driven by richly textured harmonies, shifting Caribbean rhythms with a very original root bass sound, this is impassioned singing by a unique group.

Words by Jan Fairley