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  • Writer's pictureFrantz Alcema,

Haiti's jazz festival comes of age

At a time when most of the world's jazz capitals are buried under snow or suffering through sub-zero temperatures, Haiti is offering fans a week of outdoor concerts showcasing the best talents in the business in a balmy Caribbean clime.

Now in its thirteenth year, PaPJazz, as the Festival International de Jazz de Port-au-Prince styles itself, is aiming high.

"Our ambition is to be the Caribbean jazz festival, the benchmark in terms of both organization and programming," explains Milena Sandler, director of the Haiti Jazz Foundation, which organizes the festival.

Proving that 13 isn't always an unlucky number, the festival this year has secured for the first time the talents of Cecile McLorin Salvant, currently one of the biggest singers in the world of jazz.

They had been trying to lure the 29-year-old American to Port-au-Prince for the past five years without success.

But if PaPJazz can now secure the biggest global stars, its survival still hangs by a thread.

"Putting on a festival anywhere is complicated. In Haiti, especially so," says Sandler. "But it's a challenge we take on every year because we love what we do," she adds.

The Caribbean's poorest economy is racked by a series of seemingly never-ending crises; right now, it's chronic fuel shortages that have put the festival organizers' nerves to the test.

The few gas stations in Port-au-Prince are thronged by dozens of vehicles, a nightmare that gave pause to even the most passionate of jazz fans.

But thanks to carpooling and black market fuel, plenty of members of the public were able to get themselves to the Saturday opening held in the grounds of a major hotel.

"I'm always in awe of the results the team in Haiti is able to get because things are never easy here. It's exceptional," says Jeanine Millet, a festival-goer who says she hasn't missed an edition of PaPjazz since it began in 2007.


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