Frisner Augustin, master Haitian Voudou drummer and recipient of the prestigious National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship in 1999, paid his first visit to the Bay Area last month. The occasion was to work closely with Mozel “Zeke” Nealy, a locally based drummer who might be considered a cornerstone artist himself because of the decades of drumming he has provided for Haitian dance classes as well as teaching drum technique throughout the Bay Area.
The rare opportunity to deepen his study with a culture bearer like Frisner Augustin provided an understanding of the context of Haiti’s rich culture. With a panoply of over 100 rhythms, each “family” of rhythms is associated with its own songs, dance styles, and sometimes ritual practice.
ACTA supported this residency thought the Traditional Arts Development Program, which provides contracts designed to help artists and organizations get to their next level of development. For Zeke Nealy, the one-on-one tutorials and rich conversations are sure to impact his own teaching and artistry.
During Frisner Augustin’s short stay here in California, he gave two public workshops in Haitian song and drum techniques. Explaining his humble origins, he simply remarked, “I was called to the drums,” referring to a tradition where trance allows the deities to descend and make their will known. Having encountered many stereotypes that are associated with Voudou since his arrival to the States in 1972, Augustin has been a cultural intermediary for many years. He established La Troupe Makandal in New York City, which he still directs and performs with.
Zeke Nealy hopes that this visit will begin a new relationship with Augustin and the Bay Area community of drummers and dancers who are receptive and eager to learn more from this esteemed and affable drum master.