Meet Class Notes Artists: Afoutayi

Members of Afoutayi include, from left, John-Paul Douglas, Melissa Clark, Florencia Pierre, Djenane Saint Juste, Hassen Ortega and Eberle Fort.MPR/Will Keeler

November 20, 2017

Many members of Afoutayi Dance, Music and Arts Company originally hail from Haiti, but the company has been based in the Twin Cities for a few years. They brought their colorful, energetic music and dance to Bel Air Academy in New Brighton in October.

Over the summer, some members of Afoutayi came to MPR's Maud Moon Weyerhauser Studio to shoot some videos of their dance and music. They start each song with "Ayibobo," which is similar to "Hallelujah" or "Amen."

Afoutayi began the performance with a song to the "soley" (Creole word for "sun" that rhymes with "Soleil," which also means "sun," but in French). Haitian people believe in the big energy of the sun, and in this song they are asking permission to take that energy. It is a blessing that can be used to start the day or an activity.

The Artistic Director of Afoutayi Dance, Music and Arts Company is Djenane Saint Juste.

Afoutayi is a family affair: Florencia Pierre and Jeff Pierre (at the drums) are the mother and brother, respectively, of artistic director Djenane Saint Juste. The child in the videos is Saint Juste's son, Hassen Ortega.

Florencia "Madame Fofo" Pierre is the mother of Djenane Saint Juste and Jeff Pierre. She has written some of the songs that Afoutayi performs, and she made up the song and game Zamn Telele. (See video below.) Madame Fofo also makes all the beautiful outfits for Afoutayi's performances.

Zamn Telele is a game with bokits that can be played by the riverside when people are collecting the water for the day.

"Bokits" [BOH-keet] can be used for work and play. They are crucial for Haitians who don't have plumbing and need to go to the river to collect water, but they can also be used as drums such as in the Zamn Telele video above.

Djenane Saint Juste brings joy to the classroom with her positive attitude and beautiful dancing. Haitian dance uses lots of hip action or "shaking what my mama gave me," small steps, raised arms and twirling. They also dance barefoot.

The flowing, colorful skirts are integral to a lady's dancing in Haiti. She holds the ends with her fingers, shakes them rhythmically, twirls in them. All the outfits are bright and colorful. The ladies wear big earrings and glitter on their faces. It's all very beautiful and helps express the joy of the movements.

Singing and playing instruments are Florencia "Madame Fofo" Pierre on the "Manman" drum, Eberle Fort on the "Mitan" drum, with the little "Kata" drum played with sticks next to him and classical/jazz singer Fabienne Denis playing the "chacha" (shaker).

John-Paul "JP" Douglas is a multi-instrumentalist, shown here with the "kone" [KOH-neh], a vuvuzela-type horn with two pitches. Many instruments in Haiti are made from recycled materials. The kone is made from scrap metal.

The metal instruments in "Tik-Tak" that Djenane Saint Juste and Melissa Clark are playing are also made of scrap metal. The instrument is called a "graj" [GRAHJZH], and it is played with a fork. It is really light, so that it can be played by dancers, and it is popular at Carnival.

Vivien Bossouamina from Congo Brazzaville (which is next door to the Democratic Republic of Congo) demonstrated the style of dancing from his country and provided the biggest laughs from his comic antics and the biggest cheers and gasps with his back flips.

Dancers Djenane Saint Juste and Melissa Clark lead half the class in dance while the other half of the class provides the beat on the bokits.

Saint Juste teaches the Creole version of "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes." Creole is one of the two national languages of Haiti. It is a mix of French (the other national language; Haiti was a French colony), English, Spanish and African languages. This song and dance is performed at Carnival, a massive festival held in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras. Basically, it is a time to celebrate wildly before the somber time of Lent. The Creole version of this song is much more energetic than the English version. It's repetitive, though, so it's easy to learn if taught in call-and-response form. The body parts are "Mains, tèt, zepòl, vant, dada, jenou, zòtèy" or "hands, head, shoulders, tummy, bum, knees, toes."

Djenane Saint Juste makes all the children love her from the moment she opens her mouth. She is just so incredibly positive and charming. Here she is giving high-fives to all the student drummers.

"Lasirenn ak Labalenn" is a folk tale and song about a poor man who loses his hat in the sea while on a treasure hunt, but meets a mermaid and a whale. The storyteller is Hassen Ortega, the son of Djenane Saint Juste. At the beginning of the video, Saint Juste calls "swa congo," which is a call to start a "congo" dance, a dance of love.