Haitian Band's Documentary "Septen" at Tribecca Film Festival
Written by Jim Farber    Monday, 18 April 2011 00:00    PDF Print E-mail

Not every film festival comes with its own soundtrack. But every year, the Tribeca Film Festival features a wealth of music documentaries and sonically attuned fictional works. This year they offer some of their richest and most broad-minded, including:

'When the Drum Is Beating'

Music provides a through line for more than a half century of hard Haitian history in this sprawling documentary. The band Septentrional (Septen, for short) has survived, even thrived, through more than six decades on their half of the island of Hispaniola. But it has been a rough span, marked by every man-made and natural disaster imaginable, from brutal dictatorships to revolutions to last year's apocalyptic earthquake. Throughout it all, the 20-member, horn-punctuated band has played on, expressing every emotion felt by a nation desperate for joyous release.

The musicians, who draw on Cuban as well as Haitian Vudou rhythms, haven't always been able to express themselves honestly. At one point, they fashioned a loving ode to the bloodthirsty fascist Francois (Papa Doc) Duvalier to keep from having the band tortured.

At times, director Whitney Dow's encompassing piece pulls back the camera further to show more local history, explaining how Haiti went from being the first free black republic with a wealth of resources to the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. While acknowledging the Job-like pain along the way, Septen's music provides an abiding corrective. As one of their fans says, "I am poor, but when Septen plays I'm rich."

Septen will play a free show Friday at 8:15 p.m. at Battery Park's North Cove.

'The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye'

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