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Healing the Haitian Soul

The Port-au-Prince International Jazz Festival strives to mend a devastated nation

Aaron Goldberg

Across the street from the shacks made of sticks, tarps and scrap metal that house thousands of earthquake survivors in downtown Port-au-Prince, the delicate sound of a tenor sax serenades a sizeable audience of music enthusiasts. This is Haiti’s international jazz festival, resurrected after an earthquake destroyed its venue city in January 2010, killing some 230,000 people and displacing some 1.4 million.

So where does a jazz festival fit into the reconstruction of a nation where 800,000 people remain homeless and threatened by a deadly cholera epidemic, their national consciousness disheartened by the undemocratic election held last November? “You can’t only take care of housing and water—all that’s really important for sure, but culture is really linked to the Haitian people,” said Milena Sandler Widmaier, who organized the festival along with her husband, drummer Joel Widmaier. “People need to be fed in the mind as well, not only in their body, but in their soul.”

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