by Catherine Angst
“Òganizasyon mondyal yo pa pou nou yo ye…” Manno Charlemagne voice reverberates through Duke’s Ahmadieh Family Lecture Hall in his native Haitian Creole. Charlemagne’s velvet vocals harmonize with his acoustic guitar as he repeats to the large crowd, “Òganizasyon mondyal yo pa pou nou yo ye…” a message that translates roughly as, “Global organizations are not in our interest”.
As a singer and songwriter, Charlemagne’s politically charged chansons have scored the soundtrack of Haiti’s political protest for over 30 years. Born in the suburbs of Port-au-Prince in 1948, Charlemagne music was influenced by traditional Haitian twoubadou performers and shaped by the “kilti libète” or freedom culture movement of 1970s Haiti. Throughout the 1980s, Charlemagne’s songs stood in opposition to and captured the injustice of the Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier regime.
Jacques Pierre, co-director of Duke’s Haiti Lab, coordinated the Charlemagne concert. In addition to directing the Haiti Lab, Pierre teaches Haitian Creole in Duke’s Romance Studies Department. “I wanted to bring Manno to campus because my Intermediate Creole students are working with his songs. Also, I wanted to share his performance with the Haitian community in the Triangle area, so they could reconnect with many of his songs from the 1980s and 90s which are still very powerful and moving,” said Pierre.
As an ambassador of Haitian culture on campus, Pierre coordinates several Haitian events throughout the year including the upcoming International Haitian Creole Day on October 28th, and an Haitian film festival which takes place in the spring. Pierre’s students, Duke faculty, and members of the Haitian diaspora filled the audience on September 23rd to listen to Charlemagne’s sharp lyrics, enjoy the Haitian rhythms, and reflect on the importance that art and music can have in political histories.
video by Jennifer Prather
The Manno Charlemagne concert was supported by Duke’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, the department of African and African American Studies, Duke’s Center for International and Global Studies, the Forum for Scholars and Publics, the Franklin Humanities Institute, the Haiti Lab, and the department of Romance Studies.