Haitian Gospel Music
Haitian gospel music, known in Creole as “levanjil mizik,” is rooted in the rise of Christianity on the island nation, has a long and rich history. Though the powerful Baptist trends that define gospel music today did not reach Haiti until the introduction of western (specifically American) media, Protestantism and European Christianity was brought to Haiti during the country’s origins. When Spain first colonized the island nation in the late 1400s to early 1500s, via Christopher Columbus and the Santa Maria, he brought with him old Catholic traditions and impositions.
The colonizers, with their ruling prowess, insisted upon devout practice by both the Haitian natives and imported African slaves around them. Spanish missionaries arrived en-masse and spread throughout the Caribbean lands, preaching and ‘converting’ a good majority of inhabitants. Despite their pious efforts, many fell to new foreign and strange diseases like yellow fever and malaria.
After combatting with the old Spanish and the new English, France took the European administrative head of Haiti in the 1700s and ruled it for the longest uninterrupted period of time. During this period, Jesuits and Capuchins served as missionaries and continued the proliferation of Catholicism. By this point in time, Haitians practicing vodou and voodoo drumming had found ways to combine their native practices with Christian and levanjil ideas.
After a slave revolt that won independence for the Haitian people in 1804, Protestantism was introduced to the country. When Americans arrived in the country in 1915 for the American Occupation, they brought with them Protestant ideas that were on par with Southern Baptist ideology (along with the big band jazz that led to Haitian mini djaz). Attractive to the more colorful nature of rara traditions and voodoo, the charismatic form of worship within the religion gained popularity throughout Haiti. Enter Haitian gospel music!
Notable Haitian Gospel Music Artists
Roosevelt Jean Noel is a Haitian levanjil singer born into a Christian family in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince. Roosevelt began his Haitian gospel music career at age 9, naturally succeeding due to his family’s musical prowess and music schooling. In 2004, Roosevelt lost his mother, which inflicted a painful lapse in faith and departure from levanjil mizik. After a brief bout in the more secular music scenes, Roosevelt returned to the gospel scene in 2009, where he has risen in popularity and prowess since. Performing throughout Creole communities worldwide, he states that his mission is simply to ‘deliver the Lord’s Word through his singing.’
Rose Flore Francois is a Haitian gospel vocalist, getting her musical start in a small church near Haiti’s southern end. By 16 years old, Flore was winning vocal competitions and features on local radio. Since then, she has sang her faith and grown in popularity and as a levanjil artist. In 2010, to help raise funds to benefit the restoration and rebuilding of Haiti’s infrastructure, Flore held a local concert to great acclaim. She has made it apparent that it is her mission to ‘spread God’s love through passionate musical communication.’