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'Festival of resistance': Haiti jazzfest sparks hope in crisis-hit capital

Haitian musician Cisco performs with the reggae band Mapou during the PAPJAZZ international jazz festival in Port-au-Prince (Richard PIERRIN)
Haitian musician Cisco performs with the reggae band Mapou during the PAPJAZZ international jazz festival in Port-au-Prince (Richard PIERRIN)

Hundreds of concertgoers attended the "PAPJAZZ" music festival in Haiti's capital this week, which returned for the first time since 2021 with a modified schedule and strict security precautions amid the city's dire security situation.

The international jazz festival was postponed in 2022 and then relocated to the northern city of Cap-Haitien last year over security concerns in Port-au-Prince, where the United Nations estimates that gangs control as much as 80 percent of the area.

"This is the festival of resistance to everything that's happening, our way of saying that we believe -- and want to move forward," Milena Sandler, one of the organizers of the festival, told AFP.

The event, in its 17th edition and ending Sunday, gives residents of Port-au-Prince "the hope that they can dream, live together," Sandler said.

"The city is not dead despite everything," she added.

Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas, has been in turmoil for years, with armed gangs growing increasingly powerful and unleashing brutal violence, leaving the economy and public health system in tatters.

A recent UN report said homicides and kidnappings in the country had more than doubled last year.

In response to the security challenges, the 2024 PAPJAZZ festival was shortened to four days from eight, and concerts only held in a relatively safe residential neighborhood.

Stages were set up outside the Karibe Hotel, which hosts UN offices and where the visiting artists were housed.

Volunteers and national police officers ensured security around the venue.

Sometimes seated, sometimes on their feet, the audience -- mostly expats and middle-class Haitians -- danced and sang each night, with groups performing local "Rara" carnival music in between the acts.

- 'Resilience' -

"Despite the challenges, the festival bears witness to an impressive resilience. It's a celebration of Haitian cultural richness," spectator Esmeralda Milce, who works in marketing, told AFP.

Milce said she was particularly excited to see Haitian artist Beethova Obas, whom she hadn't seen perform in over a decade.

"People are in a festive spirit," rejoiced Samantha Rabel, a young doctor.

Performers at the festival included foreign artists such as Cameroon-born American Richard Bona and Frenchman Ludovic Louis, as well as Haitian musicians based in-country or from the diaspora.

According to the Haiti Jazz Foundation organizing group, PAPJAZZ welcomed between 550 and 850 guests each evening from Thursday to Saturday.

Others flocked to see emerging musicians at free "after-show" concerts, held in three restaurants in the Petion-Ville neighborhood, which drew large crowds, according to an AFP correspondent.

The free concerts normally held in public squares and universities were excluded from this year's festivities.

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