New Waves! AYITI RETROSPECTIVE #33: How do artists become themselves? Talk with Emerante de Pradines
THE highlight of my New Waves! AYITI experience, was an hourlong, private conversation with Emerante de Pradines - a Haitian National Treasure; a pioneering singer, dancer and folklorist. I’d met her a week earlier on the day I arrived in Port au Prince, at the infamous Hotel Oloffson, which is owned by her son, Richard. We spoke of dance, of her friends from Trinidad, and while I was filled with deep respect and in awe of her grace, Emerante quickly developed a love affair with my 4-year old son. The love affair deepened with our 3-day absence to visit Jacmel; he called out “Emme! Emme!” and ran to her upon sight when we returned to PauP. I, too, looked forward to being with her more. Two evenings later, during the Opening Night Celebration of New Waves! AYITI at Hotel Oloffson, I walked away from a full plate of food to be fed in a whole other way. Emerante spoke to me as a woman, as a mother, as a dancer. And I listened as such. I don’t have notes or even remember every detail, but its imprint remains.
Makeda Thomas and Emerante de Pradines at Hotel Oloffson in Port au Prince, Haiti. 18 July 2014.
The following day - Friday, 18 July 2014 - Emerante graciously accepted an invitation to speak with New Waves! AYITI. The room was charged not only be her presence, but by that of Dr. Joan Burroughs, who danced for Jean-Léon Destiné, whom Emerante describes as “a brother”. There was an incredible amount of dance history in the space.
"You are the researcher. Every person you have an opportunity to watch, is an opportunity to learn something.”
Emerante de Pradines was born in 1928, the daughter of the legendary Haitian entertainer Auguste “Ti Candio” de Pradines. (Ti Candio’s 1920 song “Angelique O!” describes a domestic squabble but also was interpreted by the masses as a call for an end to the U.S. occupation of Haiti.) Emerante de Pradines went on to become the first Haitian singer to sign a recording contract with a record company, with albums released internationally, including by Smithsonian Folkways in the United States.
- Listen to a recording of Emerante de Pradines singing“Soleil”,”Manman’m Voye’mpote Cafe”, “Song to Ogoun” and more here: http://www.folkways.si.edu/creole-songs-of-haiti/caribbean-world/music/album/smithsonian.
“He wants YOU to dance. Make the association of the body and the soul. It cannot be separated.”
Following a call to dance, and under the tutelage of Lina Mathon-Blanchet (founder of the first Haitian dance company that based its work on its own folk traditions) and René Bélance (renowned Haitian poet), Emerante developed what was to be her trademark: Haitian folkloric dancing with European and African influences. She earned a scholarship to study dance with Katherine Dunham in 1947. She taught the Dunham technique from 1950 to 1954, returned to Haiti where she used some of the tools and techniques she learned, and soon founded the Haitian Dance Troupe.
"I studied vodou dance for three years in Haiti before performing. I didn’t know it as ‘vodou’. I wanted the song. And the dance."
In 1954, a second grant from the Parapsychology Foundation took Emerante back to New York where she studied at the Martha Graham School and began work in anthropology at Columbia University. While studying there, Emerante met and married Richard M. Morse, a Latin-American scholar and writer from the United States. They had two children, Richard Auguste and Marise. Emerante de Pradines founded and led a dance school in New Haven, Connecticut for decades. From 1993, they ran L’Institut Haïtien de l’Amérique Latine et des Caraïbes. Emerante returned to Haiti and was named director of the Troupe folklorique nationale (National Folklore Troupe). She became one of the primary forces in the movement to foster Haitian culture in the country’s theaters, and was an active member and actress in the Société Nationale d’Art Dramatique, Haiti’s dramatic arts association.
“Know your own body.”
Emerante is now a widower, having lost her husband in 2001. Their son, Richard Morse,continues the de Pradines cultural legacy, fronting the band RAM with his wife, Lunise. And Emerante continues to love and give to dance - offering young and professional dancers insight from her well of knowledge and experience. New Waves! AYITI gives thanks for this truly remarkable experience and is forever better by the gift of her presence and sharing.
"You cannot be a teacher if you cannot give. You cannot keep it. You MUST give it and know that some you give to, will take it."
Hotel Oloffson is located at Ave Christophe #60, Port au Prince, Haiti.
http://hoteloloffson.com/ Tel: 509-3-223-4000
Princeton Alumni Weekly “Into Haiti’s heart: Richard Morse ’79 finds his roots” By Dan Grech ’99Published in the December 8, 2010, issue