Rasin music is Haitian Vodou music (drums and bells forming traditional rhythms, accompanied by traditional lyrics sung in service to a Vodou spirit) shaped into commercial art. It takes on a multitude of shapes: modernist, postmodern, folklore, according to the times in which the music was produced and marketed. In the 1980’s, when the term was coined to explain a music that had been going on for years, Haitian musicians also began to sing political texts, written by themselves, to Vodou rhythms melded with pop.
After 1492, the colonies that were Haiti all had a patron saint. When the French came to control Haiti, Notre Dame de L’Assomption, beloved by King Louis XIII, became the patron saint of the colony, replacing the Spanish St. Jacques. This Patron Saint was then replaced by the Vodou spirit (lwa) Ezili Kawoulo, celebrated on the 15 of August, who became the patroness of the Haitian revolution. Ezili Kawoulo is a goddess of beauty and love, to whom Haitians dance the Kalenda. Toussaint L’Ouverture, who led several of the most significant stages of the Haitian revolution along with Jean Jacques Dessalines, Haiti’s liberator, took the Spanish St. Jacques to heart. St. Jacques had come to symbolize the Nago Vodou lwa Ogoun, god of war, of iron, and of warriors. The red and blue of the Haitian flag is said by some to represent the unity of Ezili (blue) beloved by the people, and Ogoun (red) beloved by Haiti’s two generals. Vodou Patrons eventually allowed Haitians to revolt and break away from colonial rule.
Haiti’s governments, since Toussaint L’Ouverture’s time, had never been tolerant of Vodou until recently. Despite being devotees to the religion, both L’Ouverture and Dessalines reprimanded the practice of Vodou, perhaps as a means of controlling a people prone to rebellion. This factor, along with other political occurrences, has led to a dominant tragic and tragicomic style in Vodou where many of the songs are political diatribes told to a lwa. Despite this, Haitians keep faith in the fact that their spirits are the reasons why they exist: their roots, or their racines in French (rasin in Haitian Kreyol) gives name to this genre of music.
One of the most beautiful Rasin songs is “Papa Loko” named after a god of the Taino. “Papa Loko” is supposed to have created the world. It is sung best by Toto Bissainthe, in a tragic-folk style, at a time when Haiti was being governed by a dictatorship and she was in exile.
photo ©: Teun Voeten