Haitian Vodou Drumming and Dancing

The UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology presents a presentation / workshop by Welele, master drummer; Ari Nicolas, dance specialist; and Carla Bluntschli, Co-Founder of the N a Sonje (We Will Remember) Foundation.

Thursday, October 18, 2007
10:15 AM - 12:00 PM
Gamelan Room 1659
Schoenberg Music Building
Los Angeles, CA 90095

Ever wonder what Vodou drumming is really about? Do dancers really get possessed? The media has put quite a spin on “voodoo”, convincing many of the dark and mysterious nature of this cultural practice. Here’s your chance to see what’s going on…and experience a powerful performance along the way. These folklore specialists straight from Haiti will be visiting the Department of Ethnomusicology this Thursday. They’ll be here to answer your questions. You might even have a chance to drum or dance yourself.

This presentation / workshop in Haitian Vodou drumming and dancing is given by master drummer Welélé and dancer Ari Nicolas, with translations provided by Carla Bluntschli.  The performers use the opening of a Vodou ceremony complete with drawing of a Vèvè with cornmeal to demonstrate the sacred arts.  They will talk about the cultural context of Vodou and answer questions and will lead a brief masterclass in drumming and dancing, taking volunteers from the audience.

Artist Bios
Welele, born Raymond Noel, has been on stage from the time he was a young boy, playing drums in church services and then choreographing movement and dance to those same rhythms. He is a natural musician, loving all percussion instruments, a born choreographer, a spontaneous and published poet (this June he published his first collection “Zo Bouke” of poetry, read to traditional and original Haitian music). Despite his young career, he is preparing to make his place among the ranks of some of the renowned musicians and writers of Haiti. Not only has his extraordinary drumming skills given him many opportunities as professor of percussion and dance at places such as “Food for the Poor” (1994-1997), “Academie Nationale Diplomatic et Consulaire” (2001 to present) and the Ecole de Musique Ste. Trinite (2006 to present), Welele has performed with well-known groups such as “Indigenous” and “Mystic 703.” He is currently performing with “2 Rasin,” now preparing their debut album for release in early 2008. He is also a seasoned journalist, author and editor, having authored and edited the first Kreyol column in the historic newspaper, “Le Petit Samedi Soir.” His journalism also took him into television where he worked for over a year at a major television station in Port-au-Prince, Canal 11, as a correspondent and producer. Welele’s latest stage appearances have been with the one of the oldest and very well known comedy troupe, “Languichatte”; he is presently playing the role of the Native American in 2007 US tour of N a Sonje Foundation’s historical drama/mime, “3 Innocents and a Spirit”. Welele describes himself as an evolving human being preparing himself and his generation to strengthen the world with love, respect and acceptance.

Harry “Ari” Nicolas was born in Cap Haitian in 1962 and was raised by his paternal grandmother, who instilled in him the cultural tradition of respect. He attended a Catholic school, but for Haitian children, this meant being taught by white, foreign, French-speaking priests who used a leather whip for discipline in the classroom (a striking irony for a nation that won its independence and freedom from slavery). It was only after Ari finished school that he was able to free himself from that system and recognize the oppression of his own spirit as well as that of his country. In spite of its oppressive educational system, the church was finding elements of change in its ranks: Liberation theology, with its demands for justice and truth, swept through Haiti in the same way it was sweeping up the youth all over Latin America. It was in the midst of this fervor that Ari became involved in many church-related activities, seeking to change the social and economic injustices of his society.

These activities ultimately obliged him to leave Cape Haitian and come to Port-au-Prince where he met the Bluntschli family. Out of his enthusiasm for promoting understanding about the historic struggle of his people to the outside world, Ari co-founded DOA/BN with Carla Bluntschli.  Ari’s charm, humor, and expertise in expressing his passionate respect for his people, culture, and history has helped provide transformational experiences for hundreds of visitors whom DOA/BN has hosted since then to this day. In 2000, Ari was gifted with a vision of reconciliation and healing through a reconnection with Africa and its history, a vision that resulted in the creation of the N a Sonje Foundation.
Happily married with two beautiful sons, Ari has established himself in the small, rural community of Gwo Jan, just outside Port-au-Prince. Living in Gwo Jan has provided new opportunities for learning more about Haiti’s cultural roots and people, through understanding the depths of what it means to live in community.  Ari refers to himself as “an ordinary, everyday ‘modern’ Haitian, enthusiastically sharing his people’s history and hospitality.” He is an actor and a dancer expert in the traditional arts.

Carla Van Dusen Bluntschli was born in Philadelphia in 1953. She studied violin and viola at a music conservatory in Philadelphia from 1971-1975. Ten years later, she moved with her husband and three young daughters to Haiti, where they served as volunteers with a small development organization working in reforestation and community development. In 1992 Carla co-founded with Harry Nicolas DOA/BN, a not-for-profit organization formed around the premise of educative tourism and based in Port-au-Prince. DOA/BN strives to be a bridge for visitors to Haiti by providing general orientations, Kreyol language instruction and cultural immersion programs and connections for universities and international media companies such as NPR and BBC. In 2000, she co-founded the not-for-profit N a Sonje (“We Will Remember”) Foundation with Harry Nicolas and Djalòki Dessables. N a Sonje’s primary project is setting up a Memory Village near the mountain village of Gwo Jan in Haiti, which is envisioned as an interactive, historical village where people from all over the world will have the opportunity to re-live the roles of the African, Amerindian and European peoples painfully bound together in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It is hoped that this will be part of the solution that will help to heal our fractured modern world. Both of these organizations operate in the traditional spirit of hospitality, respect and dignity and are devoted to sharing Haiti’s deep roots, wrenching history and beautiful gifts with all guests whose paths cross in Haiti. Carla is also a radio personality on the “Chimen Memwa” radio show and a violinist/vocalist with the “2 Rasin” music group.

Cost : Free and open to the public; parking is available for $8.

For more information please contant:

UCLA Department ofEthnomusicology

Tel: 310-825-8381


Sponsor(s): , Ethnomusicology, Information about non-ASC events is posted for informational purposes and does not necessarily reflect opinions of or endorsements by African Studies personnel.