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Thurgot Theodat Jazz saxophonist Thurgot Théodat on his way to France, met with KariJazz on November 6, 2006. Recently, he released a new CD, B-A-D-J-I (August 2006), which is generating great interest among fans. He kindly accepted to sit down with kariJazz to answer some questions. Below is the transcript of the whole interview that Mr. Théodat gave KariJazz. I hope you enjoy this great conversation.

KariJazz: Good evening. Today we are happy to have with us one of the most influential composer, arranger and saxophone player on the this new trend called voodoo Jazz, Kreyòl Jazz , Haitian Jazz … Today what is of interest for us is not to put a label on this music but to introduce to our listener saxophonist virtuoso Thurgot Théodat. On behalf of KariJazz, Alpi and Karl are happy to wish you a warm welcome because you are the first artist to kick off this series that KariJazz want to extend to other prominent jazz players on the network. And it is not the last time we are going to meet (everybody laughs).

Thurgot Théodat: This is real pleasure to meet you guys because you are real amateurs of music; not only in term of Haitian Music but in term of music in general and I love that. Your open-minded attitude toward music is something that is amazing, taken in the Haitian context. I have been fighting for a long time to impose in Haiti a kind of "new sound". This is with great pleasure that I am here to chat on the subject.

KariJazz: Thanks again. Since 1986, many currents have emerged from the Haitian musical experience. Many new artists came into view with new concepts during that period. How do you position and see yourself in this new trend?

Thurgot Théodat: Until 1986, I did not know per se what we usually call Haitian music. I had some vague recollection of Kompa Dirèk as a child. My whole adolescence life unfolded outside of Haiti; hence I was not exposed to this music. As an inquisitive person by nature and a passionate of Jazz music I was always in that quest because when you like and play this music it allows you to develop a natural curiosity for things. Therefore Jazz music drove me to discover or maybe rediscover the Haitian aspect of my multicultural background. When I came back to Haiti in 1986, as a musician, I had a Jazz culture with, I would say, a Western background…

KariJazz: You said you came back to Haiti in 1986. Where were you before?

Thurgot Théodat: I was living in Europe. I have lived in France from 1973 to 1986.

KariJazz: What were you doing in Europe?

Thurgot Théodat: I was living there as a kid. All my education from Middle school, to College happened in France. Then I came back to Haiti with a kind of Jazz-pop background and met with some musicians from the band "Foula". These musicians made my education in terms of voodoo culture.

KariJazz: Hum. This is a very strong word. You said these folks taught you about the popular culture of Haiti, voodoo. Before this encounter, didn't you have any previous knowledge at all of our popular culture? Didn't you have any basic knowledge of the socio cultural impact of voodoo in the Haitians' culture?

Thurgot Théodat: I had no idea at all. Of course, when I left the country, I was 14. I used to listen to music from the radio. But I had never gone to a voodoo ceremony. I did not know what it was. All the time I spent abroad, I had almost no contact at all with my roots. I was young and I hang out mostly with folks from different countries. I did not have any Haitian friends per se. So I started really learning about my culture with my encounter with "Foula". They taught me how to play the drums/percussions. As I deepen my knowledge of voodoo, I was obliged to learn all the rhythms (Petwo, Konngo, Nago etc…) and again the folks from "Foula" taught me how to play the drums and how to recognize the different rhythms.

KariJazz: You said they taught you how to play the drums. Is it something important to know as a musician? Is it important to know the drums in order to integrate better voodoo and structures of contemporary music?

Thurgot Théodat: Logically no. But I would say yes because when I hear my music in comparison to other music in the same vein, I found that the fact that I know how to play the drums allow me to integrate better the rhythms in my music. We are talking here about Kreyòl Jazz or voodoo jazz, I think the drums is not present enough in this music. Maybe this happens because all these musicians do not know how to play drums. As a drums player I devise that it is important that the drums must be a central element of my music. Voilà! It is not I was obliged to learn how to play the drums. But I like this instrument. I also learned the piano because I love harmony. There is a level that you reach as a musician, you suppose to play piano. I am not a virtuoso. I cannot solo as a master on piano; but this instrument is important in term of harmonic richness for any real musician.

KariJazz: Through what you just said, I have the impression that the technical side as a musician is something that is important to you. I do not think that someone, who cannot read and write music, cannot make arrangements will have access to the concepts you are talking about. Am I wrong?

Thurgot Théodat: Of course you aren't. There is a profundity one cannot reach in music without a deep knowledge of music theory and technicalities. Knowing music theory allows me to communicate with other musicians. On the CD Badji I have two foreign musicians playing with me. If we were communicating by ear, it would be a very difficult, tedious and endless process. Communication became easier because done on a scientific basis. There is a minimum of technical background required if the musician wants to go further in that self expression matter.

KariJazz: You made allusion to the CD and I am glad you did because this is our next point of discussion. KariJazz is really happy with this CD. In our philosophy, this is the kind of work we are looking to talk about. We have always advocated for a Haitian music that would be more eclectic and consequently accessible to other people in the world. The trend voodoo Jazz initiated by Sa, Foula is very strong and this is most likely the one that is closer to the eclectic aspect we mentioned earlier. I listened to this CD probably 10 times. This is a superb album.

Thurgot Théodat: Thank you

KariJazz: Can you talk about the conception of the CD and why Badji now 15 years after "Foula."?

Thurgot Théodat: I have to tell you when I started working with "Foula"; it was difficult for me because I did not understand what was going on? I was used to the classic drum. I knew how to play swing very well. Imagine that Foula was a guitar, a saxophone, a bass and 3 percussions. I had problems to understand this concept. I was saying all the time why we don't play with a regular drummer? After a gig, the money had to be spread between too many players, I was saying. I could not understand. I was seeing all of this from a materialistic point of view. This is where the education started. The folks from "Foula" made me discover that voodoo rhythms cannot be played with on drum/percussion. You need at least 2. This group had vibrant percussionists, extremely advanced technically speaking. This widened my view from the strict swing approach to lager palettes of sounds and rhythms: Petwo, Nago, Rada, Ibo which brought different colors to the music I was playing.

The Foula experience lasted until 1991. When the only CD of the group came out, the band split because must of the musicians were tired in this struggle. I have to tell you the band never received any subside neither from the Haitian government nor from the private sector. Therefore most of the musician left the country and went to the USA. I stayed in Haiti and felt isolated because I did not want to play Kompa or Reggae. I wanted to play my music. I started to teach music (all what I learned with "Foula") to the youth to prepare a group of musicians that will help me play my music. Next page...

November 6, 2006

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