MIAMI — From its permanent home at the Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince, RAM has been a staple of the Haitian rasin culture scene, at home and abroad, for decades. In 2019, the roots music group performed its last show in Haiti, then turned to virtual stints during the pandemic. About a year ago, the band began playing in person in the United States.
This year, the group was looking forward to celebrating Fet Gede — Haiti’s festival honoring the ancestors — it had been performing since the 1990s in person, back in Haiti. But in early October, band founder Richard Augustine Morse said, the band found itself setting up a new base in New Orleans instead.
“The generators and the amount of electricity given by the government won’t sustain rehearsals,” said Morse, in an phone interview from New Orleans. “That’s really why we had to get out.”
This past Saturday night, RAM kicked off its annual gede celebrations at the Miami Beach Bandshell instead. With featured dance performances by DJ Krazy Mix and an opening set by NSL Danse Ensemble, the event drew hundreds, mostly Haitians.
Morse, 66, said they were looking forward to performing in Haiti for the first time since the pandemic, but with the country’s lockdowns, the five shows lined up for Haiti in November were canceled. Even if the band could have managed to get together to practice at the Oloffson, which Morse managed all these years, there wouldn’t be enough gas for rehearsals.
Such daily challenges take a toll.
“[In Haiti] People are suffering, people are getting killed, journalists are getting killed,” Morse said. “You don’t hear about all of them, assume it’s worse than you think. I try and focus on music just because it’s important for people.”
Morse, who grew up in Connecticut with an American mom and Haitian dad, said RAM’s shows — consisting of mostly traditional songs —serve as a bridge to people who may not have access to ceremonies otherwise.
“People who don’t have access to ceremonies can have access to the songs and can learn about themselves and learn about the meanings of the songs,” he said. “The songs translate to modern times, so it gives them their strength, their ability to adapt to new situations.”
“The best part of it is when it feels like it’s new again,” he added.
Along with Morse are his wife Lunise, the band’s lead singer, their daughter Isabelle, and their firstborn son William, who plays guitar in the 11-member band.
Though not in their home base may be different now, Morse said, the band’s purpose and the delight it brings audiences remain the same.
“People go there and laugh, in Gede they curse, it’s sexual, they talk about sexual parts so it’s funny,” Morse said. “Cultural identity is important. As the world gets mixed up, it’s good to know where your roots are.”