Miami may be a hot spot for the Haitian bal circuit—the dance party performances by Haitian konpa music bands, but a little bit more music never hurt nobody, especially in the form of bands and musicians that are not regularly part of the bal circuit. Of course there are several Haitian music festivals held in Florida, but with them being held just once a year, and only having so many spots for performances…
In comes James and Laura Quinlan of the famed Rhythm Foundation, who came up with the Big Night in Little Haiti concept, in which solo artists like Bethova Obas, BelO and veteran bands like Tabou Combo and Zenglen are brought in to showcase their music. Haitian music is very band-driven; solo artists have had much more success often times outside of the Haitian community.
Most bals are attended by adults, and since they are usually held at nightclubs and over-21 venues, they’re not exactly family friendly, which makes an initiative like Big Night in Little Haiti welcomed by the Haitian community, and other lovers of Haitian music and culture, as it gives them the opportunity to enjoy Haitian music in a family-friendly atmosphere, not to mention food, crafts, poetry, and art. The Big Night in Little Haiti events are free to the public, and held the third Friday of every month, making them a must-stop for Haitian culture enthusiasts, and much-valued by the artists themselves.
Laura Quinlan discussed the initiative with Kreyolicious.com.
Why is the Rhythm Foundation called the Rhythm Foundation, and not The Music Foundation?
I wish it was called something else – we started the company in 1988 long before the internet and email. I didn’t know I was going to spend the next 20 years spelling “rhythm”. It is such a fundamental thing, but it is such a hard word to spell. No one gets it right. My husband James named the company – he used to play bass, and he is big on the rhythm foundation of any music. Of course I love melody too! Rhythm Foundation has been presenting the best international artists in South Florida for almost 25 years now, and the name sticks.
How did the concept of Big Night in Little Haiti get off the ground?
We had presented some great Haitian music in the 90s, but hadn’t done anything with Haitian music for several years. Then immediately after the earthquake in 2010, we presented a benefit concert in Bayfront Park, and I fell in love with Haitian music again. I wanted to be able to work with Haitian music and art just for fun and pleasure, to take it away from the idea of all the bad news that was coming out of Haiti. To think about a thousand people dancing under the stars, when the konpa guitar starts that beautiful klangy rhythm – this was the sound in my head. The Little Haiti Cultural Center is a beautiful venue, the staff is lovely, and we wanted to be part in the neighborhood as it comes back to life. We put in a proposal to the Knight Foundation to get Big Night in Little Haiti launched, and it was a big success from the first edition.
Music seems to be a cultural ambassador in itself.
This is the true mission of Rhythm Foundation. The concerts are just a by-product. So much of South Florida is locked up in little communities, not shared by different people. The goal for our concerts, including Big Night in Little Haiti, is to create the chance for people of different cultures to share something together. If you are not Haitian, but you experience a night of great Haitian music, then you understand more about the culture of all these people who are your neighbors. It broadens your perspective in a way that only travel can. Miami, like other great world cities, is a place of diverse cultures that give it a vitality. Music is one of the most enjoyable ways to break down stereotypes and build links between neighborhoods.
Are you pleased with the response Big Night in Little Haiti has had?
I am very pleased. From the first night, a great crowd come every month – all different kinds of people, different ages. I have made some great friendships and professional relationships with Haitian media people, business leaders and people in the community. It was a new realm for me and the staff of Rhythm Foundation. I feel like we jumped down the rabbit hole of Haitian culture, and we just keep getting deeper into it! There is so much that can be done with project, I hope we can continue to keep producing the night.
What future plans do you have for this initiative of the Foundation?
We are working on the most difficult aspect, which is fundraising! Beyond that, we look forward to the City of Miami opening up the Caribbean Market Place on the corner, which greatly expands the scope of the night. Now that the construction along NE 2 Avenue comes to an end, the neighborhood around the Little Haiti Cultural Center should be more involved in the plans. There are some wonderful new restaurants and venues opening up within the blocks around the Center. It could grow into something really massive!