Öneza Lafontant. Images courtesy of the artist
Öneza Lafontant is the Founder and Lead Singer of KONGO, a Haitian Roots Music Group of Brooklyn. The Flatbush resident is featured within the Heart for Conventional Music and Dance’s Beat of the Boroughs: NYC Online collection, which is showcasing the artistry of 54 of the town’s main immigrant performers and numerous cultural traditions from around the globe.
When did your musical journey start?
In 1993, I began volunteering to work with refugees detained in a U.S. Naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after they had been interdicted by the U.S. Coast Guard after fleeing persecution in Haiti to hunt asylum. The next 12 months, I returned to Guantanamo to work as a Household Well being Counselor with World Aid. Throughout that point, I started to sing with the refugees as a method of coping and developed musical therapeutic actions to counter these tough instances. We might beat on buckets for drums and sing to make Haitian roots music. In 1995, I based the Haitian roots music group Kongo, and a few authentic members of the group had been Haitian refugees who I met in Guantanamo.
What drew you to Brooklyn?
I moved to Brooklyn to affix my two sisters who had been residing right here, and I used to be enrolled to attend Wingate Excessive College. Previous to that, I had left Haiti to stay for a 12 months in Belgium, the place my different sister was residing on the time. Though Brooklyn is house to one of many largest Haitian communities out of Haiti, I struggled with integration due to the bias and discrimination that Haitians confronted on this nation. There was a historical past of stereotypes about Haitian those that had been tailored within the mainstream media, and folks believed these damaging anti-Haitian narratives. Haitian youth had been always bullied and beneath assault at school settings. The primary week that I attended college at Wingate, I used to be mugged in entrance of the varsity. Later that 12 months, my shut good friend Alphonse Rempell was shot to demise in entrance of the varsity. He was like a brother to me.
What makes your music distinctive?
Kongo’s music is a uncooked mix of a cappella interspersed with percussion and acoustic accents, which stays true to its African roots. You need to use devices in various the methods you intensify or create “your personal sound”. The drum was the primary instrument; its sound is connatural with that of the human heartbeat. It permits us to remain related to our ancestors, who affect our day by day lives by sending messages of knowledge, love, fact and justice, by the lwa spirits. Haiti’s personal independence relied on the drum as a communication machine, which made our revolution doable… It’s very highly effective.
What conjures up your musical repertoire?
Our songs are songs of wrestle. Via Haitian music and drums, we personal our wrestle, and our wrestle conjures up our music. Our songs rally resistance across the numerous struggles that our folks face in Haiti and folks going through social injustice around the globe.
Who’re your favourite artists from Brooklyn?
My favourite artists in Brooklyn are literally each Haitian visible artists. Jean Patrick Icart-Pierre is thought for his revolutionary type of Haitian work and ghetto landscapes, which very like my music, additionally responds to social injustices that our folks face.
And Deenps Bazile is thought within the Haitian neighborhood as Granbwa, that means spirit of the woods. He’s a multi-disciplinary artist identified for his religious sculptures carved of useless wooden stumps in Prospect Park. He additionally organizes the annual Haitian cultural gathering Bwa Kayiman at Prospect Park to commemorate the Bwa Kayiman ceremony that gathered maroons that escaped slavery in 1791 to arrange and launch the profitable Haitian Revolution.
How has the pandemic affected you and your group?
This pandemic has interrupted life as we all know it, and issues might by no means be the identical. I sometimes work as a Educating Artist within the public college system, and there are little to no alternatives to proceed to show musical enrichment actions on a digital platform, that will enable most artists to help themselves and their households. Haitian individuals are identified for our resilience; it goes far again into our historical past, and we have now inherited it. We proceed to face many struggles over time. Whether or not it’s pure disasters, artifical disasters, or local weather change, which all make an financial scenario tougher.
Dwelling as a instructing artist in New York, I’ve discovered to make ends meet. Fortunately, I used to be in a position to have some financial savings put away for a wet day. I discovered that that is necessary as an artist as a result of work is just not all the time regular.
How are you reaching viewers now?
I proceed to take part in social justice actions by lending my voice as a singer and taking part with our drums to gasoline rallies and different actions, each in individual and just about.
Over the summer season of this 12 months, we participated in social actions and demonstrations to protest the detention of Haitian households in Berks County Pennsylvania with the Shut Down Berks Coalition. This trigger is expensive to me as a result of I used to supply household drumming circles in that detention heart 15 years in the past, as a therapeutic music exercise for the detained youth and households.
Final month we participated within the National TPS Alliance Justice for Journey motion. As they stopped in Brooklyn, we offered drumming for a rally in Flatbush (and we’ll take part in a digital cultural music encuentro with them in January 2021). On December 5, we participated in the Stolen Lives Induction Ceremony, and occasion that we normally play in yearly, that brings collectively dad and mom of individuals which have been killed by the police. This 12 months the occasion was carried out on-line, and our group Kongo closed the presentation.
What do you suppose the longer term holds in your arts sector in New York on account of the pandemic?
Sooner or later the varsity system will ultimately attain a brand new level of normality that could be a wholesome studying setting for the scholars. I solely hope that the directors can notice the significance of instructing music, dance and different arts actions, particularly as a instrument for therapeutic, which is very necessary now and going ahead.
What sorts of help do you most want now?
It is necessary for artists to have entry to digital platforms, and maybe obtain technical help coaching of how we will greatest share our music broadly on digital platforms. This is able to enable folks from everywhere in the world to listen to our music and see our movies. We’ve got nice materials to share, however we simply have to know the way greatest to do it.
What’s subsequent for you?
As our wrestle continues, so does our struggle for justice. I’ll proceed to seek out methods to make use of my artwork type to assemble folks and gasoline social justice actions. In the meantime I’m attempting to familiarize myself with methods to current my music remotely, on digital platforms.
What are your hopes for 2021?
I hope that we will really notice some racial reckoning that has been talked about all through this 12 months in a symbolic approach. Our inhabitants has been affected by racist insurance policies that began lengthy earlier than the Trump administration however have definitely gotten worse throughout 2020. I hope that completely different sectors of our society will proceed to work collectively to repair over 500 years of harm attributable to colonization. I’ll proceed to work to decolonize the wrongs of the historical past by my music. Within the meantime, I hope for this pandemic to finish in order that we will all stay safer and be more healthy.
What does it imply to you to be a part of Beat of the Boroughs?
Throughout this time that folks can not collect through the pandemic, this program supplies a secure platform for artists to share their music and dance with communities, not simply regionally however around the globe because it’s on-line. I may even share it with folks in Haiti.
You may view Öneza Lafontant’s presentation on Monday, December 21 at 5:00 PM on CTMD’s YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/user/CTMDProgramsConcerts or Fb web page https://www.facebook.com/CTMDnyc. And be taught extra about him at kongoroots.com.