At the end of the rara procession in Little Haiti, I was quite hungry, but fortunately, there was a brick oven pizzeria less than 5 minutes away called Andiamo, and although they were about to close for the night, they were gracious enough to let me place my order. I had chosen Andiamo because it was close to Little Haiti and because I had seen it earlier, but I didn’t know until I got inside that at least one national restaurant reviewer included it within a national list of the best pizza restaurants in America. I concur. I had a pizza made with pepperoni, prosciutto, mushrooms, mozzarella and gorgonzola cheese, and I was thrilled with how quickly it came out, and how good it was. My only gentle quibble- on a Friday or Saturday night they should stay open an hour later or so.
Each week on Friday night, Rara Lakay leads a rara prcoession through the streets of Little Haiti in Miami. The band of tin horns and drums attracts a large crowd of marchers/dancers that follow the band along the parade route. In Haiti, such processions occur during Lent, from Ash Wednesday until Easter.
Rara Lakay leads a rara procession through the residential streets of Little Haiti on each Friday night, beginning from the murals on the wall at the corner of NE 2nd Avenue and NE 60th Street. The processions pick up participants as they go, eventually returning to the spot where they began.
The start of the Friday night rara procession on the week that I was in Miami was delayed because of the Miami Heat’s playoff game, and so the procession really didn’t get underway until around 9:30. Led by the musicians, it picked up participants as it proceeded through the residential streets of Little Haiti. Some of the more enthusiastic dancers ran a block ahead of the musicians to do dance poses low to the ground. People came outside on their porches and gathered along the sidewalks in some areas, and the whole scene became very familiar to me (aside from it being night), for this was very much like a New Orleans second-line. Even the vendors and food trucks that pulled up along the route were exactly like what one would have seen in New Orleans. Actually I shouldn’t have been surprised, since the Haitian Revolution of 1804 brought a number of French loyalists to New Orleans from Haiti, and also since many of the Africans brought to Louisiana were from the same regions of West Africa as those brought to Haiti. The rara bands share some aspects of the second-line tradition, such as using horns as well as drums, and leading the processions in which dancers and celebrants parade behind. But the raras also have points in common with Mardi Gras Indian practices, including the importance of drums and percussion, and also (at least in Haiti) the ritualized confrontations between different rara bands when they meet in the streets.
By the time we crossed over North Miami Avenue, we had assembled a fairly good-sized crowd, but my friend Jackson stated that the crowd was much smaller than average due to the ball game. Suddenly, all too soon, we arrived back at the corner of Northeast 2nd and 60th Street where it had all begun. I had not eaten since about 4 PM, so as everyone started to go their separate ways, I started trying to find a restaurant that wasn’t already closed, as it was almost 11 PM.
The Rara Lakay band rehearses in their neighborhood prior to the weekly Friday night rara procession in Little Haiti. These processions, common in Haiti during the period of Lent up until Easter, serve to promote Haitian culture in Miami.
Although the joyful music of a Haitian rara procession might seem spontaneous, a considerable amount of rehearsal is actually necessary, as the musicians showed me as they rehearsed in an outdoor courtyard behind a house in their neighborhood. Rara bands consist of a number of drums, some from the western tradition, like snares and tenors, as well as bongos,scrapers, cymbals and Haitian kongo drums, as well as the large bamboo trumpets called vaksen (now often made out of plumbers’ pipe) and valveless tin horns, often fashioned out of old coffee cans. The latter instruments require the most rehearsal, since each horn is fashioned to play only in one key, and, having no valves, can only play one set of open notes or partials. This means that it takes a group of men working together each with one horn to play a melody, much like handbell ringers in a church. The melodies of rara music have words in Kreyol, and they are sung before they are played. A musician with an electric keyboard will often play the melody first on the board to help the tin horn players get it in their heads, and then they practice it until they have the note sequences and rhythms down. I was also thrilled to see small children pick up one of the drums and play the rhythms with a great deal of familiarity and accuracy. I was told that these children were sons of some of the musicians in the group, and so are growing up around the culture of rara music.
One of the attractions of Miami is the city’s great diversities of culture, allowing you to experience the food, music and art of several different cultures in one destination, so for those fascinated by the culture of Haiti, a trip to Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood can be extremely rewarding. Almost at the center of the neighborhood is a brightly-painted architectural wonder called the Caribbean Market that is beautiful, but sadly closed for renovations. The good news is that work seems to be going on, so the market should soon be open again. Nearby in the next block is Librerie Mapou, a Haitian bookstore that is the perfect place to learn more about Haiti’s amazing history and culture. The downstairs room is filled to the rafters with books (many in Kreyol or French) while the upstairs is a gallery of Haitian art, traditional Rada drums and priceless artifacts. Record stores like Sonny Sounds or Fifi Records offer the Haitian national music style known as Kompa (short for kompa direk or “direct hit”), but the latter has the deepest selection of classic groups like Les Difficiles de Petion-Ville or Tabou Combo. You can finish your day of shopping with authentic Haitian food at any of a number of restaurants along 2nd Avenue or 54th Street.
Anyone in the Miami area who is interested in Haitian art, dance or music should check out the Little Haiti Cultural Center on Northeast 59th Terrace near Northeast 2nd Avenue. The center features an art gallery, drumming and dancing classes and an outdoor stage, and on the third Friday evening of each month, it sponsors an event called Big Night in Little Haiti, featuring music performances in the plaza from 6 to 9 PM.