Rasin, also known as racin, “roots music,” mizik rasin in Creole, or musique racine in French, is a Haitian punk movement that is progressive musically, politically, and socially. To truly understand the genre, one must first learn a little bit about its origins; to do this, we will briefly take a look at the history of Jean-Claude Duvalier, the president [read: ruler] of Haiti from 1971.
Baby Doc’s Haiti
Duvalier, popularly called “Baby Doc” by Haitian natives, succeeded his father, Francois Duvalier (fittingly referred to as “Papa Doc”). Granted almost omnipotent power by the broken constitution at the time, Jean-Claude promised a restructuring of the government during his time in office but only actually instituted surface-level changes. He assigned his allegedly unqualified advisors many of the important and crucial governmental tasks that a leader is supposed to assume. During this delegation of duties, corruption began to spread exponentially – many Haitians were left derelict, prosecuted and harmed by officials, tortured, killed, and robbed. Several hundreds of thousands of natives fled the country for their and their families’ safety.
In the midst of these dark years, Baby Doc is said to have embezzled millions of U.S. dollars and have been heavily involved in drug trade and human body part trafficking. But manipulation of governmental power and monetary streams were not enough! The ruler also overtook and manipulated deep voodoo traditions by bribing or blacklisting non-compliant religious leaders. Fed up, Haitian citizens revolted in 1985. After warring with Jean-Claude (protests versus regulatory impositions), the president was encouraged to step down from his office by Ronald Reagan and his administration. Baby Doc fled Haiti for twenty years; during this time, voodou practices and much internally stability to Haiti was restored. Upon his return, the man was arrested and charged with corruption and embezzlement. He remains in judicial limbo.
With the foundations of traditional Haitian voodoo severely upset, there was ample room for the rearranging of practices and elements. Rasin began in 1987 when Haitian musicians, now free to access elements of voodoo religion, began to mix traditional voodou lyrics, instruments, and rhythms with modern rock and roll patterns.
Similar to Haitian gospel music, which was also very relevant in the late 1980s, racin uses call-and-response singing between a lead singer and his or her audience. The genre’s lyrics generally follow one of two paths: either they speak of voodoo-inspired ideas of sneakiness, betrayal, judgment, and reclaiming one’s roots, or they criticize the horrendous military practices of the past and boast the riches of native culture. Other racin pieces are more strictly religious, praising voodou deity or used as worship. And still others are crafted for simple fun and dance. Songs are typically sung in Haitian Creole.
Elements of Racin
The genre generally employs “rada” beats, which are African-originating rhythms that are derived from voodoo culture, alongside “petwo” beats, also from voodoo practices. The rada beats are supposed to give a sense of chilliness, while the petwo beats are aimed at creating a fiery heat. The two kinds of drum lines are never used within the same song, but are instead often alternated. Elements drawn from rock and roll include instrumentation – electric guitars, horns, keyboards, basses, and drums – and lyrical structure.
RAM, a group named after the group’s founder in 1990, Richard A. Morse, is a well-known rasin band based in Port-au-Prince. RAM is most famous for their repeated playing of a song entitled “Fey” (meaning leaf in Creole) in 1992, only a few months after the Baby Doc regime was overcome. This song is deeply rooted in voodou traditions and challenged the failed authority of the newly-ousted regime’s stranglehold on the religion. The English, French, and Creole-capable group continues to make music to this day.
Boukman Eksperyans is a racin big band-esque group named after a famous voodou priest who, as legend tells, sparked the Haitian revolution in 1791. Boukman Eksperyans was nominated for a Grammy for their first album entitled Vodou Adjae. They have toured all over the world, spreading rasin culture and musical traditions to both Creole and jazz communities everywhere.