Haitian Flavor: MADAFI and BUYU AMBROISE

January 9, 2010 Culture, Travel & Heritage, Features

by Peter Kondrat, May 2006

After Port-au-Prince, Brooklyn has more Haitians than any city in the world. Language, poverty and cultural misconceptions often conspire to keep this creative, vibrant and fascinating community on the outskirts of our awareness. Wyclef and Edwidge have become virtual household names, but other talented Americans of Haitian descent like Madafi and Alix Buyu Ambroise are making waves here in Brooklyn.


Madafi is a 21st century griot – singer, songwriter, artisan, and soon-to-be host of a weekly show on BCAT showcasing Creole, French and African hip hop artists.

What was the trail that led you to Brooklyn?

I came to Brooklyn five years ago. I was born in Miami and spent my teen years listening to all kinds of music: Brazilian, Cesaria Evora, Manu Chau, the Doors, Steely Dan, lots of French hip hop, Zap Mama, Edith Piaf. I’ve been traveling to Europe since the age of 6, I’ve got family in Switzerland.

The other evening when you were performing at Kombit, you called yourself a tomboy…

I am a tomboy!

So how does a tomboy get interested in making jewelry?

I come from an artistic and intellectual family. My mom, since forever, has collected jewelry… and I used to do jewelry in high school. I put that aside when I was living in Switzerland, then when I came back I was like, “I think I want to get into this.” The Museum of Contemporary Art in Miami asked me to have a show. Some of my pieces are still on display there.

What do visual and aural creativity have in common?

It’s all Madafi. The funny thing with music is I never wanted to sing. I just wanted to write, and have people perform my songs. For a long time I fought it, but you can only fight against what is right for you for so long.

Who are some hip hop artists you’ll be featuring on your TV show?

Well, there’s a group called Solo Dos, out of Switzerland, but they’re from the Dominican Republic. They rap in French, Spanish and English. Some of the Creole hip hoppers you want to keep an eye out for are Little Haiti (who I did a song with in Creole), Nègmaron, VDC (Voodoo Child), and a brother named

Some of Madafi’s her work and  when she’s performing can be found at www.walkinggriot.com

Alix Buyu Ambroise plays tenor sax in his Blues in Red Band. They’ll perform at Solomon’s Porch on May 27, and at other venues throughout the summer.

Buyu Ambroise

What was the trail that led you to Brooklyn?

I was born in Haiti, and my family left because of political stuff in the 60s. . . Papa Doc. I spent a couple of years in the Congo. I listened to music that was happening there: OK Jazz, Rochereau, African Fiesta. It was amazing stuff. I absorbed music while I was there, but I first played the sax when I was at Wingate High School. I didn’t speak much English, and the instrument was a way for me to express myself.

How do your Haitian roots show?

I guess my accent! But seriously, I try to get the best musicians to work with, guys who can deliver rhythms. It’s all in the rhythm. That’s the essence of the Haitian music I love. I’m still trying to learn what I left behind, still figuring out what’s going on here. Brooklyn is where the action is. This is where I find my rhythm. They call it the People’s Republic of Brooklyn . . . I love that, man.

Does your music say it all, or is there something you feel you’d like to add?

There’s much more I want to say, musically. Music is a dialogue with the listeners. When they come and say, “I want to hear more,” I’m ready to tell them more of the story that I have to tell in my music.
If you could perform on a triple bill with anybody, who would you choose?

Branford Marsalis to headline. He’s fascinating, I’ve been listening to him a lot. And the opener would be any rara band, playing the sacred music of Haiti.

Are you on a mission as a musician?

I’m more like a messenger. I’m political in a broad sense, in the tradition of my family, always looking at life from the side of the people. For me, to do jazz is a radical thing.

Buyu Ambroise can be contacted  at buyujazz@gmail.com for more information and also to join his mailing list.

Peter Kondrat, a writer, editor and music aficionado,  lived in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn and passed away in 2007.

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