INTRODUCTION TO RARA
The phenomenon of Rara is particularly creative and is both fun and profound. It is at once a season, a festival, a genre of music, a religious ritual, a form of dance, and sometimes a technique of political protest.
Rara season starts along with Carnival, and keeps going through Lent, culminating on Easter Week. Local Rara societies form musical parading bands that walk for miles through local territory, attracting fans and singing old and new songs. Rara is a paradoxical mix of both carnival and religion. Bands stop at important religious spots—cemeteries for example, where they salute the ancestors. Musicians play drums, sing, and sound bamboo horns and tin trumpets. These horns—vaksin—create the distinctive sound of the Rara. Each player plays one note, in a technique called hocketing, and together the band comes up with a melody. Then, a chorus of Queens and fans sing and dance along to the music. The sound carries for miles around, and lets fans know that the Rara parade is coming. The town of Leogane is best known for its Rara, but the festival is practiced all over Haiti, and is different from region to region.
This is an old festival, harkening back to slavery times and before that in Western and Central Africa. Its songs and melodies have been passed down for generations, so they are all popular “hit” songs. And Rara is played enthusiastically in summertime, in cities in the North: In Miami, New York, Boston, Montreal. “Rara makes me feel I am in my real skin,” said one Haitian in New York. For Haitians in the diaspora, playing or dancing in a Rara delivers the special ambiance of Haiti. It is a taste of home.
Rara music, and other Haitian grassroots music, circulates throughout Haiti and its diaspora—it can be a way for folks in different locations to share their concerns and points of view. I have been interested in how one festival can be crammed so full of meanings and uses. There is also a lot of history behind the Rara festival. I hope you become interested in Rara too, and that you enjoy and learn a little bit from my website.
As a next step, I recommend you watch the 15-minute film, Rara, by Verna Gillis