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Johnbern Thomas: Jazz in Exile

Haitian drummer, displaced by the earthquake, makes his way across the border

Haitian drummer Johnbern Thomas mixes Haitian percussion rhythms with the Latin jazz that his Dominican band members play
Johnbern Thomas, Haitian jazz musician

Caribbean jazz drummer Johnbern Thomas remembers the dates that changed his career much like any other musician. He remembers the Sunday in 1999 when, at the age of eight, the pastor of his church pulled him aside to say “God has a project for you,” asking him to play in what would be his first ever public performance. He remembers January 28th, 2010-the day he left the only home he’d ever known to try and earn a living in a country where he didn’t even speak the language.

And he remembers how, two weeks earlier, on January 12, he was concentrating so hard practicing riffs from a West African Roots book by Royal Hartigan that he didn’t notice the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that would postpone his dreams of becoming a jazz star in Haiti. “Someone took me by the hand and pulled me out of the house. I don’t even ask why that was, and then I felt and saw that it was an earthquake. Someone was crying ‘oh my baby, my baby.”

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