Why Haitian Spirits & Kurt Weill? Baron Samedi Program Note May 8, 2014

by Erin

Author and cultural critic François Frimat delves into the world of Alain Buffard and Baron Samedi:

Here the title refers not to a voodoo legend, instead it is a point of departure. The figure of Baron Samedi, this troublemaker and interrupter of arranged ceremonies is part of the voodoo pantheon; but it also embodies the idea of the grotesque, the carnival. That this figure caught the attention of Alain Buffard is not surprising; his work often deals with revealing how the clear precarity of social identities and cultural category is based only on chaotic, desperate and often painful movements, from which emerge proud conflicts as well as audacious fusions. He often directs his attention to the triviality of hierarchies, indoctrinations and beliefs in social pretences which might bring someone to think he is who he thinks he is. A relationship becomes evident between the examination of these fragile identities and what happens in the tumultuous dance of complete reversals. The principle of laughter and the carnivalesque feelings of the world which are the basis for the grotesque, destroy the unilateral seriousness as well as all pretention to meaning and unconditionality outside time.* And there is never enough true cross-fertilisation and the decolonisation of the spirits remains absolutely necessary.

The universe of Kurt Weill’s songs is a brilliant way into this problem. We all remember that Kurt Weill was forced to flee those who considered his music degenerate, somehow they accepted being haunted by fantasies of a pure reality. And we never stop being attentive to that which brings us back, by habit or facility, to such a dangerous illusion. The only certitude about identity is that it is uncertain, depending so much on the hazards of life, the gaze of others, often-imposed migrations, battles it must fight to not be alienated from that which it recognises as radically foreign. Preserving its dynamic possibility is not however an invitation to distraction. Chosen and assigned roles change with successive unmaskings, sometimes more than once, like layers of clothing, conventional or not, lifted from the locker room of decomposing familiarities, perhaps in order to expose them more easily. We all remember the dizzying joy of our first descent, crouched on someone’s sled, torn between wanting to throw ourselves down the hill and the fear of letting ourselves fall. But falling does not equal decadence: who, once he has gotten to the bottom, doesn’t want to rush right back up the hill and do it all over again? Besides, the underworld is filled with such seductive creatures, such humane abjectness, such noble vulgarities. Kurt Weill also helps to open up a world of brand new rogues, forever sparkling.

This piece, especially musically, continuously repeats this changing of contours and eludes all obvious categorisation. Faithful to the freedom of Weill’s music, refusing classical and modern expectations, no one onstage embodies an art form or a genre which pairs with any other. In other words, the dancer sings, the actor dances, the musician steps away from his designated spot, and a whole bunch of new artists appear, all of whom can say You don’t know today who I am. The impulses of the world are visible if you lift a corner of the fragile floor upon which we are treading, confusing that which we thought was familiar and taking us far from where we thought we were safely moored. With all these movements of the self, outside the self and between the selves, I’m a stranger here myself ...”

François Frimat

* Mikhaïl Bakhtine, François Rabelais and popular culture in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Paris, Gallimard, 1982

Baron Samedi photos by Marc Domage