Jan. 12 marked the second anniversary of the 7.0 magnitude cataclysmic earthquake that devastated Haiti. While media attention may have fizzled, the spirit and consciousness of the Haitian community and its supporters were alive and thriving at Community2Community’s (C2C) second annual “Hope and a Future” benefit concert for Haiti. Produced by Elona Dotson of Psalmist Productions Inc., the electrifying, spectacular cultural milestone took place at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, Jan. 13.
The concert’s move to Brooklyn, home to the largest Haitian community stateside with more than 86,000 Haitian residents, seemed only fitting. There was no border between stage and audience, no sense of distance or fourth wall for the more than 50 performers as they sang, rapped, danced and showcased their talents and gifts over the course of three and a half hours.
The energy was transformational and contagious. It was evident in C2C founder Marie-Yolaine Eusebe’s spontaneous conversation at the close of the event; she emerged as if from a black shadow, landing center stage to repeat words gleaned from the crowd-“incredible,” “awesome” and “beautiful”-in response to her question, “So what did you think?”
The audience was still on its feet during the finale, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now,” which was performed by the ensemble known as the Friends of Haiti. The stage was drenched in a sea of rust-colored satin as members of the Christian Cultural Center Mass Choir rocked and roused the audience.
The evening was off to a momentous start when the Coalition Dance Company set the mood with a look back to a time of vibrancy and kinship in Haiti. A stream of colorful costumes and sweeping modern dance moves set to a jazz piece aptly called “Hot Music,” choreographed by Jessica Lynch, swept the audience back to Jan. 10, 2010-two days before the earthquake.
Following the dance, the five-piece house band of stellar musicians under the direction of musical director Rob Robinson erupted in a cacophony of vibration and sound. The stage was ablaze in flashing lights, reverberating and resonating to represent Jan. 12, 2010, the day of the earthquake.
The earthquake’s aftermath was symbolized by the show’s two signature ceremonial tributes. “The Memorial of Lights” lined the aisles with candles held by Haitian-American members of law enforcement and veterans’ organizations in remembrance of the lives lost. This was immediately followed by a numerical “35 Seconds” video countdown encouraging the audience to “pause to remember and never forget” what happened in Haiti.
A series of moving vignettes, spoken word, rap and vocal tributes ensued; most notable was Barbara King’s rendition of “Seasons of Love” from the hit musical “Rent,” in which the familiar refrain “five hundred twenty-five thousand/ six hundred minutes/ how do you measure, measure a year?” took on heightened meaning.
New this year were two video presentations that brought Haiti to us. As part of the year in review, Eusebe practically reached through the camera to have us understand that while the water flowing from the spring she stood by looked clean, it must be treated with purification tablets in order to be used by the community. The spring was built by C2C volunteers working in tandem with a team on the ground in Haiti.
More about the efforts to create potable drinking water was explained in a second video, simply known as “The Water Initiative.” Both videos and more can be found on C2C’s YouTube channel.
After the intermission, the audience was graced by the talents of four exceptionally gifted and passionate performers who were there for one reason alone: Haiti. James “D-Train” Williams effused “Keep On” from his soul, inviting the audience to join him in communicating a message for Haiti: “Don’t stop reaching ’til you touch the sky.”
Next, a radiant Oleta Adams sat poised before a piano bathed in a pale gray milieu performing her classic “Get Here,” the unofficial anthem for the Gulf War in the early 1990s. When singing the memorable line, “There are hills and mountains between us,” one could visually incorporate the emerald mountainside vignettes flashed earlier during her tribute and ode to Haiti. She eloquently spoke, “For the people looking for hope and a future, we can give it to them.”
Similarly, Grammy Award-winning recording artist Chrisette Michelle performed her signature hit, “Let’s Rock,” followed by a poignant take on “If Nobody Sang Along,” from her latest album, “Let Freedom Reign.” Her seamless substitution of the words “If I just say what’s inside of me I might set a whole country free” made us believe she could.
And finally, Haitian music sensation CaRiMi’s lead singer, Mickael Guirand, clad in a red, white and blue “God Save Haiti” T-shirt under a black blazer, brought the audience to its feet with “Ayiti Bang, Bang,” sung in Haitian Creole. The song was made even more personal when Guirand shared with the audience, “We were all there when it happened, helping out.”
Proceeds from the concert will go toward C2C’s ongoing initiatives in Haiti: a water distribution system, rebuilding a school to provide quality education to over 350 children, restoring a main road for safe transportation and business development and reforesting the mountainside for sustainable agriculture, farming and green jobs.
C2C team member and project representative Ashley Toussaint introduced the evening, saying, “Take what you feel tonight and share it with someone.” Based on the passion generated by performers and audience alike, his vision and that of C2C will be realized.
For more information, visit community2community.info.