Rediscovering Little Haiti
BY TOM AUSTIN
The vibrant gown seen here—as well as some of the accessories in this feature—is from Vèvè Collections, a line produced in Haiti by Phelicia Dell, who incorporates symbols from Haitian culture in many of her designs. The January earthquake destroyed Dell’s production facility and showroom, but her brand continues to flourish; many of her artisans produced pieces in makeshift tents in the days after the tragedy. All purchases contribute to the island’s rebuilding.
Custom dress, Vèvè Collections ($5,000). vevecollections.com. Leather disc earrings (price on request). C. Madeleine’s, 13702 Biscayne Blvd., North Miami; <a href="http://www.cmadeleines.com">cmadeleines.com</a>
n a Sunday afternoon at Notre Dame d’Haiti, Carol City rapper Flo Rida is singing at an earthquake- relief benefit. As lilting as a compas (the country’s national music) song on a hot summer’s night, Miami’s Little Haiti is in full swing. Notre Dame d’Haiti is one of the strongholds of the exile community: Music pours out of the church continually and parishioners often dance in the aisles during services. In Little Haiti, sheer exuberance is always part of the equation.
USA Carwash, where the Haitian roots band Rara Lakayhas performed in the past, is just a few blocks down Northeast Second Avenue. Today, the noted rara band—a form of traditional music for followers of Vodou that uses crude instruments made of tin and modified PVC tubing—is practicing in the adjacent lot, one member complaining: “The police won’t let us play concerts in the streets anymore—too many people gather around.” The whole scene is fun, chaotic and rhythmic as all get-out, a Miami twist on the musically driven energy of New Orleans. To Dadou Pasquet of the great compas Magnum Band, this represents the best of Little Haiti. “In Haiti now,” he observes, “you almost never hear roots music, but in Miami, it’s everywhere.”
The legendary Les Cousins Books and Records, founded in 1975 by Viter Juste—father of The Miami Herald photographerCarl Juste and an iconic figure known as the “Father of Little Haiti”—is gone now, but music spills out of endless Haitian record stores, tap-tap trucks (brightly painted vehicles used for public transport in Haiti) and dance halls. Outside Peterli Club and Restaurant are portraits of Sweet Micky, the hugely popular compas star, and Wyclef Jean; inside is a poster from Scarface(I TRUST ME) and a depiction of Jesus, that whole heaven/hell/saint/ sinner thing being big in Little Haiti. Another ethnocultural stomping ground is Naomi’s restaurant, which recently hosted an Oxfam America benefit for Haiti with roots band Empress Addi and the Breeze. In the garden, an artist who goes by the tag of The Real Poor Man is pointing out his mural of Toussaint L’Ouverture, the Haitian slave who led a successful revolt against the French. It all feels more Caribbean than American, as a rooster wanders past beat-up leather sofas and Naomi’s version of a VIP lounge, adorned with posters of Peter Tosh (LEGALIZE IT: LAWYERS SMOKE IT) and a television blaring out Fox News. This being Little Haiti, nothing makes much sense, which is part of the charm.
photographs by marc richards tousignant
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