Port-au-Prince (AFP)

That the light rain does not prevent spectators from dancing in front of the stage where Canadian singer Dawn Taylor Watson sang on Saturday evening proves that the international jazz festival of Port-au-Prince was a breath of fresh air in Haiti, in prey to a socio-political crisis.

PaP Jazz, as its regulars call it, has earned its place on the international agenda at a time when the world's capitals of the musical genre are shivering in negative temperatures. But this 14th edition was the most complex to implement.

"We changed the schedule 15 times. It was very very complicated but we never said for a second that we were not doing this festival, never for a second," says Milena Sandler, director of the Haiti foundation Jazz, organizer of the festival.

-Budget threatened by the crisis-

The months of preparation necessary to ensure the arrival in January of international stars were short-circuited by the socio-political crisis.

The Haitian year 2019 will have been marked by weeks of anti-corruption challenges, demonstrations interspersed with violence even leading to a total paralysis of activities from September to December.

Massive layoffs of employees and even permanent closings of establishments, the crisis suffered by private companies has largely rubbed off on the festival.

"We have three traditional partners who have definitively said that it was impossible for them to participate financially this year," reports Milena Sandler. "We understand them, we don't throw stones at anyone".

To offset this cut budget, the PaP Jazz team then thought of launching a crowdfunding campaign on the internet. A winning bet because more than 10,000 US dollars are collected, allowing to align a program at the level of major world festivals.

Shared happiness: at the opening, Haitian music lovers took advantage of the energy of the legend Dee Dee Bridgewater who had longed to visit the first Black Republic in history.

"It was a dream for me to come here because it is a country where people revolted to have their independence, it is my people, the black people," confided with emotion the American star.

Forgetting the growing insecurity in the country, the magic PaP Jazz operates when Dee Dee Bridgewater, three Grammys to his credit, briefly shares the microphone with the group Take 6, ten awards in 40 years of career. Moments that the singer wanted to share with Haitians.

"Of course this country needs schools. Of course there is a need for stronger infrastructure but music is very important. It gives the people of Haiti the opportunity to see and listen to music which comes from everywhere and it can open the eyes of people outside, "hopes Dee Dee Bridgewater.

- Inclusive festival -

Far from the elitist cliché of jazz, 80% of the concerts at the Port-au-Prince festival are free and, every morning for a week, international artists offer workshops to anyone who wants to attend.

"This morning, there was this artist who comes from Taiwan and who made us discover her instrument and the music they play", appreciates Emmanuella Leroy, 21 years old.

Younger than some of the students who came to attend her workshop, saxophonist Jazmin Ghent loved this time of exchange.

"It was a real treat because as much as I shared with them, they shared with us as much so that we could become more aware of the music here in Haiti and of the culture" says the 26-year-old artist.

"I would like to play Haitian music, acquire some of these styles and collaborate with Haitian musicians," she said.

Proof of the power of attraction of PaP Jazz: from the Cuban Yilian Canizares to the French Jacques Schwarz-Bart, many of the artists featured in this 14 edition were not their first participation. All of them are now presenting international collaborations with Haitian musicians.

"I really fell in love with this festival," says Israeli drummer Yogev Shetrit.

"The programming here is incredible: it is a high quality festival and people around the world must know that in Haiti there is a high level festival, really cool," concludes the musician.

© 2020 AFP