Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Living With Music: Madison Smartt Bell (NYT)

Madison Smartt Bell (Jerome De Perlinghi)

New York Times
January 7, 2009, 7:00 am — Updated: 11:31 am -->

Living With Music: Madison Smartt Bell
By Gregory Cowles
Madison Smartt Bell is the author of numerous books, including a recent biography of Toussaint Louverture.

Rebel Music Old and New
I started listening to most of this music in the early 1990s, as I was finishing the first of what would be three long novels about revolutionary events a long time ago in a small obscure place that few people in the United States had heard of and fewer cared about. What’s different now? At least a few more people are aware that Haiti, and the conditions of living in Haiti, are closer to us here than we used to like to think. …

1) President, Wyclef Jean. One of the few English-language tracks on Wyclef’s astounding “Welcome to Haiti: Creole 101″ — an album I’ve used for a language and cultural primer (exactly as advertised) since it came out in 2004. When I first heard this song I associated it with Haitian elections, and with a comment by a Haitian academic friend of mine who’d been invited to serve in the government and declined, with some regret, but firmly. It’s difficult, he explained to me, to find enough people who are capable and competent, whose probity is beyond question and who don’t object to the strong possibility of assassination. …

2) Revolution, Bob Marley. I first heard this one when “Natty Dread” broke on college campuses in the late 1970s. While writing “All Souls’ Rising,” I wore out the first two Wailers records. Marley’s is more tenacious than most other rebel music because the political message is so deeply rooted in religion — because the singer locates revolution in revelation with the first breath of this song.