Ayiti Men Rock, is the culmination of rocker Yohann Doré’s childhood love affair with rock. A love affair that had obstacles and thorns in its path, no doubt since Haiti’s official musical genre is konpa. But at this point, the Rock-Yohann love affair, is at the love triumpheth level, and let no man set it asunder. Hello world, men wòk wi!
Considering rock’s appeal it’s questionable whether it would have been a better move to do an all-English album, though Doré acknowledges that he felt no particular pressure to release one. Initially, the plan was to release a 10-track disc, but after recording and mixing it, By My Side, the resulting album was a 4-track EP. It at least introduced Haiti to the band Ayiti Rock and its Pétionville-born and bred leader. The general reaction, says Doré was that most people couldn’t fathom that it was coming out of Haiti. One day, Doré hopes that the album will be considered a classic in the Rock Creole genre. Such an aspiration is not so far-fetched. How many times have certain genres been spurned only to be embraced later? People who play it safe musically, never thrive in the long run.
Yohann Doré definitely doesn’t play it safe, and at the end of the day, the music world should be thankful. Ayiti Men Rock, the all-Haitian-Creole full-length disc (“Tell me” is actually the only songs that throws in a few English words), is genre-bending, experimental, and unique. The theme in most of the songs is heartbreak, excruciating heartbreak, the type that would lead someone—who heretofore had been just fine—to slash tires, to stalk in the parking lot, to scribble letters using blood for ink. Please don’t get inspired! Just giving some extreme examples, that’s all! “Nou fini”, for instance, has the narrator lying somewhere between going berserk and insane. There’s definitely an element of anger in all the songs, even the ones whose story lines are relatively, joyous.
“Ak Raj” features the lyrics: “M’ap kontinye renmen’w/Menm nan yon lòt vi/Tonnè boule’m mwen sèmante mwen renmwen’w pase’m (I’m gonna keep loving you/Even if it’s in another life/Thunder strike me I swear I love you more than myself). Talk about obsessive love! The video does nothing to dispel preconceived notions of rockers as sons of darkness. In the video, Yohann pretty much resembles a Goth, with black fingernails and mascara-smeared eyes, and a scary movie undertaker look on his face. Perhaps that was the aura that he was going for in that song. The song on the album and the video that resulted from the video differ from one another. The record version depicts the narrator as the victim of a cruel woman (think a Delilah and Jezebel hybrid); whereas in the video the song is given an entire new dimension. The narrator is angry not at being abandoned in love, but being deserted by a loved one in death. How often do psychologists note that we sometimes feel anger towards a deceased loved one, and that we nurture anger towards them for deserting us, though it is beyond their control?
Thus far, the music videos that have been shot in relation to Ayiti Men Rock, have not been short on creativity, but rather have defied what rock music should be, what a Haitian artist ought to be singing, and what visual style he (or she) ought to be projecting.
Other than linguistically-speaking, it’s hard to find a traditional “Haitian” aspect to Ayiti Men Rock. Except for maybe “Rèv Si Dou” (A Dream so Sweet), which is almost tender, and amidst the guitars and alternative music beats, there’s almost a konpaish softness to it. It’s almost reminiscent of 90s-era alternative band Green Day, with an island flavor. “Rèv Si Dou” will for certain appeal to those who don’t usually count rock music as their cup of tea, but who are suckers for a well-told love story. As the album progresses, the rage does die down. Interestingly enough, the album launches off with “Anmwey”, the word anmwey being the ultimate cry for help in Creole, and ending with “Banm Beat”, a mellow, jovial party-type song.
Along with J.Perry and Wanito, Doré is part of a visible youth movement in Haiti, introducing new styles, or in some cases not necessarily new styles, but a new approach. His anti-uniformity and pro-innovation stance are certainly appreciated and welcomed in the land of homogeneity.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about rock music?
Although I respect everyone’s taste in music, it annoys me sometimes when people have pre-conceived ideas and think that it’s just noise or it’s violent without first listening. I think people who don’t know about rock music should do some research, especially here in Haiti. On the net you can find out about the origins of rock, how it came to be and how it is played all over the world independently of age, color, race or creed, and how it is incorporated in so many different styles. Our Rock Creole CD is a first; now everyone in Haiti can understand the lyrics and relate; there is no violence in it. There is some rage in some songs, but all the rage is an expression of love. Rock was a way for teenagers all over the world to express themselves, their thoughts and their claims. They wanted change. We have a similar example here in Haiti with the hip-hop movement. What bugs me too is to have people in key positions tell me, “I really like your music and I like rock, but I’m not sure about the other people.” If you like it, you think it’s good, I think you should push it. Give the others, the public a chance to decide for themselves.
We’d love to hear about the girl who inspired the song “Nou Fini”. Dish it.
I’m sorry, but I am not at liberty to give the details. It has been inspired from a true story, the phone scene in the video is a twist we added. Maybe Kenrick our keyboard player could tell you more if he wanted to. That being said, allow me to shut up.
While we’re on the subject of the song, how did the concept for your video “Nou Fini” come about? And also “Ak Raj.”
The original idea came from our producer/manager Joe Doré, who also edited the video. It was supposed to be much more elaborate with scenes of magic, special effects and much more, but because of budget constraints, we had to tone it down a bit. We are receiving great feedback from everyone who has seen it. People are really surprised. “Ak Raj” was Reginald Georges of Mage Entertainment’s concept and realization.
Now Haiti’s national pop form is konpa, and with you choosing to do rock music, what challenges have you been facing?
The main one is finding Sponsors, and the second is access to the audience through the medias. Most of the shows are about konpa or hip-hop—which faced the same challenge 15 years ago. This Rock Creole that we are doing is extremely different and brand-new. I might take a little time but the Fan base is growing rapidly. Seeing us play live has changed a lot of people’s mind about our music.
How did this love of music begin?
My father was working with a lot of bands when I was a kid; so I had the chance to be around musicians and music all the time. My mom was always listening to all kinds of music at the house. I guess I had no choice [laughs] it’s in my genes.
Some artists use “recreational” substances, claiming it helps them to gain “inspiration”. What do you think? Do you adhere to such a philosophy?
To be honest, I don’t judge. What you do is your personal business. A few beers from time to time relaxes me when I am stressed in the studio late at night when the creativity is flowing. But it is not what helps me create.
Which artists have influenced you?
First and foremost, it was Linkin Park that opened my eyes to rock music. I would love to get a chance to share a stage or do music with them someday. I was browsing the net, when I heard “Pushing me Away” for the first time. I looked for their videos and had my parents buy me their CDs. There was Three Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin, Evanescence, SevenDust, Enya…yes Enya too; and so many others. I listen to all kinds of music, from French songs to Latin to hip-hop, reggae, konpa, and classical. I incorporate all this into my music at some point or another.
Your name Yohann means ‘God is gracious’ in German. What are you most grateful for in life?
For my family and the gift of music.
Speaking of which, do you consider yourself a spiritual person?
Yes, I do. I believe we all have a purpose in life.
Do any of the songs on the Ayiti, Men Rock album have any special stories behind them?
Most of the songs have a story. “Anmwey” is the one song that just sort of happened. I was creating this groove and Patrice screamed, “Anmweyyy”. We thought, “cool”, so we kept it and worked on it. “Anmwey” was the first Creole song we wrote. “Ak Raj” is about this guy who was crazy in love with an older woman—inspired by a band member’s true story. “Nou Fini” is a bit more complicated; but what you hear in the song is real and a lot of people can relate. You have this rage against a person that did you wrong but you are still madly in love with her. “Kijan Pou’m Rele’l” was at first about child abduction, which at a time was a big issue here in Haiti with the kidnapping. We transformed it, and made it about a teenager finding out from an outsider that he was adopted. “Telling Me” is about the point of view of 3 friends that were at the studio with us during the  earthquake. “Rèv Si Dou” was written by Sakaj [a musical group] fifteen years ago as part of their second album, but it never came out.
What’s your relationship like with your mom and dad?
As in every family we have our heated moments but they don’t last, the relationship is great, they respect my choices. It’s the same with my brother Jonathan we used to fight when we were younger, but now everything is cool. And my parents are huggers (laughs). They say that no matter how old or whatever status you get to, we will always be a family and we should never be embarrassed to show that we care! (Sniff).
How have they—your parents—responded to your music?
They have always supported me, the only two conditions were: Do your school work first—and If you choose this, do it with all your heart and take it seriously. They always tell me, “It’s your life, your choice.”
Are you pleased with the response to your album?
All those who heard it so far like it, the hard copy will be released on June 29th, and everyone has a favorite song on it. I hope it will become a classic as the first ever Haitian Rock Creole CD!
How did you and the members of your band get together?
Most of us met four years ago—except for our drummer who came in two years ago. Kenrick Pierre—keys— worked at the studio with me; Patrice Jean (guitar) heard I was playing rock and came to meet me. Then came Zacharie André (bass) brought by James Dumornay (congas) and our first drummer. At one of the first rehearsals, James started fooling around with a pair of congas that were just there and at the next rehearsal he came back and every other one after that. Before that we never thought about including the congas in the music, but it made such a difference that we kept it. And he became part of the band. Wendy Noncent our actual drummer came two years later. Patrice is unfortunately in the States now, so at this moment we are five in the band.
How do you handle your fame?
Fame? (laughter) I’m don’t think I’m famous. I do get recognized, but famous is not being able to walk down the street because of paparazzi’s, that hasn’t happened yet. I still live my day-to-day life like a “normal person.” If I do become famous, cool! But it’s all about the music for me!
What’s the strangest thing did you do as a child?
I was four or five; I drank half a bottle of cough medicine and was drunk and quiet for a whole day. My parents sometimes say it was one of the best days of their lives!
Ah, let’s get to know Yohann further. We start off the sentences, and he completes them.
My best friend is…Cedric—MrCedDj.
I’d rather die than…lose my family or music.
If you really want to tick me off you…mess with my music.
Most people don’t realize that I…am really Haitian and not that crazy.
My father…is extremely supportive, most likely an alien (call M.I.B.)you would have to spend a couple of hours with him.
My closest friends would say that I…am out of this world, and slightly nuts.
Three words that describe me…passionate, laid-back, a bit crazy at times—here is that word again.
The last time I cried was when…tears came down my face…I’m dodging this one.
I would never…say never because you never know. Life has too many surprises.
Girls who…like me, find me different than most, and if they don’t it’s okay too.
Five years from now, I…would like Ayiti Rock to be recognized as the first worldwide Haitian rock band.
I honestly cannot go a day without…water…and music.
Let’s support our Haitian artists. Check Yohann and Ayiti Rock out here.