The On Being Project

  • Nathalie Joachim

Song of Haiti’s Women

Flutist and vocalist Nathalie Joachim is a magnetic voice of one of the unexpected aspects of our globalized world — new generations reclaiming and falling in love anew with the places their parents left. In an odyssey through songs of women, Nathalie Joachim is immersing in Haiti’s ecological and political traumas, as well as its beauty and its promise.

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[music: “Lamize Pa Dous” by Nathalie Joachim]

Krista Tippett, host: Nathalie Joachim is a magnetic voice of one of the unexpected aspects of our globalized world — new generations reclaiming and falling in love anew with the places their parents left. In an odyssey through music, the songs of women, Nathalie Joachim is immersing in Haiti’s ecological and political traumas, as well as its beauty and its promise.

[music: “Lamize Pa Dous” by Nathalie Joachim]

Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being.

Nathalie Joachim is a Brooklyn-based flutist and vocalist, and co-founder of the urban art-pop duo Flutronix. I interviewed her at the On Being Studios. She was in the Twin Cities, rehearsing, as part of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music series.

Ms. Tippett: Well, I would like to start where I always start my conversations. And I wonder how you would talk about the spiritual or religious background of your childhood, however you would describe that.

Ms. Joachim: Sure. It’s an interesting question, I think, for me. Today, I don’t really consider myself a religious person, though I do consider myself a very spiritual person. Growing up was interesting. My dad actually went to seminary school for a very long time.

Ms. Tippett: Oh, he did?

Ms. Joachim: Yeah, before meeting my mom.

Ms. Tippett: Was he Catholic?

Ms. Joachim: Yes, and so I almost didn’t exist, as a result of religion.


Ms. Tippett: Because of religion. [laughs]

Ms. Joachim: [laughs] But I guess the human side of him got the better of him, eventually.


That; or my mom was, I guess, that irresistible. But yeah, religion was an interesting thing, growing up, for us. We went to church when we were very young, and certainly, both of my parents really have always instilled a sense of spirituality in us. So I do think about that. And certainly, this project has brought me back to thinking a lot about spirituality — in a very different way than I thought of it in my childhood.

Ms. Tippett: From being in Haiti. I also wonder if music — it sounds — music, I know, is part of Haitian culture; it sounds like it’s woven throughout the experience of being with family, for you. And I wonder if you would even — maybe not think of it that way, but if music would be something you would talk about as part of the spiritual element of your childhood; of your life.

Ms. Joachim: It’s so interesting, because music has always been a part of my life, as you mentioned; not just because I’m Haitian, but also because I was very drawn to it, as a child. And I do think that many of my most spiritual moments have been experienced through music, in that it moves you in a way that you oftentimes can’t explain. And I think I find that to be a spiritual experience, myself. And so many of the songs that I’ve been including in this project really do connect back to spirituality, in that many of them — like the one that we just heard, it’s called “Lamize Pa Dous” — is really a song that came over to Haiti from Africa. It was really — it’s a very old song. The rendition that I fell in love with is one by a woman named Toto Bissainthe, who is one of my muses for this project. And I love the spirit of it, and I can’t possibly sing that song and not feel like I’m having a spiritual experience. So it’s still so — I do very much connect music to spirituality in my own life.

Ms. Tippett: One of the things you’ve talked about is that this part of Africa where the Haitian people — where slaves were brought in the 16th century — that one of the traditions there is Yanvalou. And this was new to me. But you’ve made this striking statement that — you said, “Yanvalou music is to Haiti as the Negro spiritual is to America.”

Ms. Joachim: It certainly is.

Ms. Tippett: This is new information.

Ms. Joachim: Yeah, and I think — again, I think partly why I wanted to start with that song is because it’s so iconically Haitian; but really, the message of that song works in very much the same way as the Negro spiritual, in that, at face value, the words themselves are quite innocent, but, as we know, so many spirituals were sung in cotton fields as a way of spreading messages and as a way of letting people know that there was going to be a way to lift themselves out of misery.

“Lamize Pa Dous” actually translates to “Misery Is Not Sweet.” And it was a way of simply stating that “I’m not well at this moment; and I’m in this place, but I’m not of this place, and I plan to find life elsewhere.” And that, to me, is such a song of revolution, and really is one of the predecessors to the Haitian Revolution and one of many songs that I think did empower and help covert messages be spread among slaves.

[music: “Lamize Pa Dous” by Nathalie Joachim]

Ms. Tippett: Now, you are known — you are a flautist; you play the flute. And I just want to — you have said that your first instrument was piano and that you were terrible at it.

Ms. Joachim: Very bad; still very bad. [laughs]


Ms. Tippett: I’m not sure I believe that. My first and only instrument was the flute, and I was really terrible at it. [laughs] But you say that you fell in love with the flute — and maybe you’re gonna play the flute for us a little later.

Ms. Joachim: I am.

Ms. Tippett: Are you? So tell me about that love affair. What do you love about the flute? I’d like to hear how you would describe it.

Ms. Joachim: Honestly, to me, it is — of the instruments, it is the closest to the human voice, I find. I really feel like the way that we create sound, the way that we get our instruments to sound, is extremely natural and comes — it has so much to do with your breath and your body, in a way that is very different than, I think, other woodwind instruments are, certainly, and also, other instruments where you’re not really using your breath and articulation in that way. So to me, I think I was fascinated, because I was like, you can use your breath to do what? You can get this instrument to do what? And it’s no wonder that it’s one of the oldest instruments around. People have been making flutes since they have figured out how to make anything.

So I think that that’s no wonder, to me, because to me, it’s an extension of my body. It’s an extension of my voice. And it’s such a — it’s very, just, connected to my physicality, in a way that feels quite natural. So when I first heard the sound of the flute, it was easy to be drawn to — I think, probably, in retrospect, because using my voice was something that I was so used to and found so much joy and love in, growing up, as a child. And so it feels like an extension of me.

[music: “Suite pou Les Cayes: Madam Bellegarde” by Nathalie Joachim]

Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today I’m with the Haitian-American flutist Nathalie Joachim. We’re with a live audience at the On Being Studios on Loring Park, in Minneapolis.

[music: “Suite pou Les Cayes: Madam Bellegarde” by Nathalie Joachim]

Ms. Tippett: You are part of this Liquid Music project, series, at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. And your project is “Fanm d’Ayiti.” Tell us what that is. Tell us the origin story.

Ms. Joachim: Yes. So I actually love this story, really, because it’s so rare, as a musician, as a creator, as a composer, that you find people to invest in ideas before you even really have a clear idea of what the idea actually is. And this project started, very much, in that way. Years — a couple years ago now, I was having a casual conversation with my father and my stepmother, and —

Ms. Tippett: And they live in Haiti now, correct?

Ms. Joachim: They do, about eight months — all of the cold-weather months, so about eight months out of the year, they’re down there. [laughs] They manage to swing through in the fall and late spring and early summer. But they spend — they live predominantly down there, most of the year.

But we were having a casual conversation about music in Haiti; and I was thinking about it, and when people think of Haitian music, often — for me, what comes to mind, when I think of what’s popular, artists that are popular, there are tons of — basically, Haitian compas music is a very big thing there. So there are all these bands of ten dudes, 12 dudes — just huge groups of men, coming together to make music. Every once in a while, there’s one woman in the band who sings backup vocals or something. But mostly, the icons of Haitian music — the popular bands that, if you’re gonna know one Haitian band — it’s definitely a band that has 14 dudes in it.


And so I started thinking about that, because it’s such a distinct contrast to my actual experience of music in Haiti, which — we mentioned my grandmother: we sang songs often, together.

Ms. Tippett: You mean just the way music is woven into the everyday.

Ms. Joachim: Exactly right, so it’s a really — it’s really a big challenge to walk through the countryside of Haiti and not hear women’s voices. That’s really what you hear. You hear women’s voices working, cleaning their houses, doing their laundry, walking with kids, cooking. That’s — and to me, that was my growing-up too. Even my mom — I have such funny memories of my mom just blasting Haitian music on Sunday when she’d be cleaning the house. And that was just what was gonna be happening, was that there was gonna be singing throughout the house. So it was interesting to me that there were so few female voices represented in popular Haitian music.

And that piqued my interest, of course. And so I started to look into them, and I found some very beautiful music; and I also found these incredible stories of women who really used their voices as a tool — for the most part, for social activism, whether or not they themselves identified as social activists; but that really was what it boiled down to. So many of them wanted to use their voices to help lift the people of Haiti up; to help empower the people of Haiti to really fight for themselves and create a life that is better for them, every single day. And so for that to be the through-thread, I was like, well, if there’s only gonna be about a dozen of them, that’s a pretty solid… [laughs]

Ms. Tippett: But was that true — were there just a dozen of them?

Ms. Joachim: There really are. So I’ve now spent the past year and a half, almost two years, really doing this research; and there are maybe closer to 20 or so, but there’s definitely fewer than 30. And that’s digging deep and going everywhere. We can talk a little bit about the challenges of researching something —

Ms. Tippett: Yeah, you wrote a diary, which was interesting — travel journal. So there’s the phenomenon of women singing all the time, everywhere; and then there’s this very small number of women who are known to be artists or who have made music a career.

Ms. Joachim: Right. So it was interesting to me. I was like, I want to find out more about these women. I want to find out how they connect to me. And I think that feeling stems from, especially in the past couple of years, feeling such a strong sensation to connect to my own cultural identity; to embrace that and to celebrate who I am.

Certainly, being Haitian-American, I feel lucky in many ways, because I have access to so many more years of my history than most African Americans have. And that’s amazing. Haiti was the first free black republic, and they really were the first to abolish slavery. And the Haitian Revolution was an epic thing to happen, at the time that it happened. And so, for me, the fact that we have that much more time where we were able to hold onto our history, hold onto — keep record of who we are, how we got our names, where we came from, what land our family is from, and even being able to begin to trace back, slowly but surely, all the way to Africa — that’s something that most black people in America don’t have access to. And for me, in the past few years, that’s become a major — it’s become a thing that’s very valuable to me, and one that I feel that is my distinct responsibility to hold onto; and also, for me to be able to pass on to my nieces and nephews — someday, a family.

That’s huge, to me. So I wanted to find out more about these women. And to me, to be gifted the time to explore this as an option, as a creative option, has been life-changing, honestly, and I think has allowed me, for the first time, to feel like I have found a creative voice that feels so much “of” me.

Ms. Tippett: One thing I’m thinking, though, when you talk about this desire and this passion to connect past and present and your deepest identity — so much of the fear and confusion and anguish and inequity that we’re confronting now, that we have no choice but to confront, has to do with the repercussions of globalization as it has been enacted. But I think one of the most interesting — a real paradox of globalization too, is, it’s bringing us back to our particular identities. It’s not doing away with that.

Ms. Joachim: Very much the opposite.

Ms. Tippett: This quest you’ve been on is also a quest of our time.

Ms. Joachim: I think that that’s true. And to me, we are all doing each other a service in holding onto that — right now, especially, because the real challenge here is that we have so many people who just don’t understand each other and, therefore, are scared of one another, because we don’t understand each other’s histories. We don’t embrace each other’s histories as a human history. And I think that that’s a really big challenge to work through collectively, as a global community. And certainly, as American citizens, I think, it’s high time that we start looking at that, and I do think that each of us doing our part to really hold onto who we are and share who we are is a very — could, potentially, be a wonderful bridge to bringing us all closer together.

[music: “Suite pou Les Cayes: Prelude” by Nathalie Joachim]

Ms. Tippett: You can listen again and share this conversation with Nathalie Joachim through our website, I’m Krista Tippett. On Being continues in a moment.

[music: “Suite pou Les Cayes: Alléluia” by Nathalie Joachim]

Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, I’m in a live conversation with the Haitian-American flutist and vocalist Nathalie Joachim. She is a magnetic voice of one of the unexpected aspects of our globalized world — new generations falling in love, anew, with the places their parents left. As part of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music series, she’s immersing in Haiti’s traumas and beauty through the songs of women.

Ms. Tippett: Here’s what I’d love to have you unfold for us, another question you were asked, once: “Favorite place in the world? Haiti. My family is from there, so it represents love, heritage, beauty, and tradition, for me.” So talk to us about Haiti, and let’s take those words — “Haiti” and “love.”

Ms. Joachim: Oh, my gosh. [laughs] It’s an amazing thing to be from a place with people who have so little and are so willing to give you everything, whatever they can, however they can help you, whether it’s just a tiny bite of food — you would never walk into a Haitian person’s home and not be offered food. And I’m talking about people who have nothing. They will run outside to grab a mango off a tree, if that’s all that they can find, to make sure that they’re helping you. And they’ll do anything to really support one another.

And that is, to me, at the very core of what it means to be Haitian. Those are the people that I grew up with in my family: certainly, my parents, certainly, our family, friends, extended family; close colleagues who are Haitian. Every single Haitian person that I have ever encountered is 100 percent like that. And so it’s so easy to feel loved in Haiti, it really is. And I think that that’s something that extends far beyond family. It’s just a cultural tradition and really about a cultural practice of giving.

Ms. Tippett: Love as an action. It’s an action orientation.

Ms. Joachim: Yes, absolutely, and it’s inherent. And to me, there’s something very beautiful about people who can find it in themselves to love, when everything around them has crumbled. For me, on my hardest day it’s very hard to give — to continue to give to people if I feel emptied by the circumstances of my life, at any given time. And there’s something about the constant spirit, the can-do spirit of — even if everything around you has crumbled, there’s a hope that you will find a way out of it, and the first step in getting out of it is by giving love — not by seeking to take from anyone else, but by giving in a moment when you have nothing left.

And so that as a practice, that as — seeing that in my parents and my relatives, growing up, is something that I think has been instilled in me in a really beautiful way, and 100 percent, to me, is synonymous with Haiti. That feeling, that sense of giving and sharing love, if that’s all you have to give, is, to me, distinctly what it means to be Haitian.

Ms. Tippett: And what about Haiti and beauty?

Ms. Joachim: Oh, my gosh.

Ms. Tippett: [laughs] Your writing from there is so visual.

Ms. Joachim: It’s — because it is. You can’t —

Ms. Tippett: It’s very lush?

Ms. Joachim: It’s beautiful. It’s just so beautiful. And for me — I do a lot of concert touring. I’ve gotten to see a lot of the world, and I feel really lucky for that. But I have to say that Haiti, for me, is one of the only places that I’ve been that hasn’t — that’s — so much of the country is untouched by tourism or commercialism or anything. Most of the country has not been put into this cookie-cutter box of: “Here are our pretty suburbs,” or whatever.

Ms. Tippett: There’s no Gap.

Ms. Joachim: Yeah. [laughs] No, there is not.


I only laugh so hard because — if you could picture the actual marketplace in Haiti, it’s very much not the Gap.


Ms. Tippett: I don’t know why I chose the Gap, but you know what I mean. We can all name the ten stores on every street.

Ms. Joachim: [laughs] So yeah, but it’s just so rich and lush and beautiful. There’s the countryside, where there’s just a lot of — my family still lives on an active farm, and so there’s — it’s beautiful countryside. There’s the beach that is — water — the color of the water, you can’t even explain to people, and the warmth of it is amazing. We do have one small mountain, but it is a mountain. Some people may call it a hill, but we do call it a mountain. And so you can go up into the mountains too. It has all of the richness of terrain and — it’s beautiful. It’s an amazing place.

And I have to say, I always think of Haiti, because — especially as these natural disasters are happening, I think of Haiti often, because I’m like, you know, one awesome thing about being a poor person in Haiti is that you never — you’re never gonna run out of food. There’s always a coconut tree, a mango tree; there’s always something. The land will always give to you. And that’s an amazing thing. It’s also terrifying when there are just hurricanes happening left and right, because it means that a lot of that natural landscape gets destroyed, and that’s when you get into a real situation of hunger or really worrying about people surviving in those circumstances.

But I do think it’s also a beautiful thing to think about the fact that for so — for hundreds of years, the land in Haiti has continued to give back to us. It hasn’t left us behind. And so many of these songs, actually, extend back to Vodou heritage and culture, where there’s Vodou spells, but there’s also this beautiful side of storytelling and thinking of spirituality; and that you’re worshiping and being grateful for the sun and the moon and the stars and the earth, because I really think that, in Haiti, it gives. It’s constantly giving to you. It’s something that has never left Haitian people behind. And so it’s a beautiful place, full of incredible resources. And I myself have a beautiful home. I have a beautiful family home in Haiti, so you’re all welcome to come. My dad himself, if he were here, would invite you, for sure. [laughs]

Ms. Tippett: It sounds like he would. So I wanted to ask you about — and the other two words in this, the way you described your love for Haiti, was “heritage” and “tradition.” You just mentioned Vodou, and I just want to say — I was thinking, getting ready to speak with you, about a conversation I had a few years ago with Patrick Bellegarde-Smith, who is a scholar. He’s Haitian-American and also, a scholar.

Ms. Joachim: We might be related. My mom’s side of the family is Bellegarde.

Ms. Tippett: Bellegarde? [laughs]

Ms. Joachim: It’s a small place. [laughs]

Ms. Tippett: Well, and he became a scholar of Vodou. And that was when I learned that Vodou is about so much, and it’s in fact not about this image of crazy shamans sticking dolls into pins; that that actually came from a movie in — I think it was 1932…

Ms. Joachim: What?

Ms. Tippett: With Béla Lugosi playing a Vodou chief, and the movie was called White Zombie. And at that point, the U.S. army was occupying Haiti to control the popular uprising. And so this idea — Vodou and Haiti are kind of synonymous in the American imagination, from this ridiculous source.

Ms. Joachim: [laughs] Yeah.

Ms. Tippett: So I’d be curious about this project you’ve undertaken. And I know speaking about this moment, there’s tumult around race and otherness. There’s tumult around women. I think a lot about — there’s this young, African-American, actually, minister, who’s one of our fellows, named Jen Bailey, who likes to point out that the language of apocalypse in the Bible is actually — the meaning of that word, “apocalypse,” is “an uncovering,” which is also a way to talk about what we’re in the middle of here…

Ms. Joachim: Certainly.

Ms. Tippett: …things we can’t not-see anymore. But some people are on a terrible blunt end of all that — many people. So I digress.

But I’m curious — living in this moment, being an artist, being a woman, being African-American, Haitian, and then going back there now and exploring music and women and this country — what have you learned about your heritage and tradition, perhaps that you didn’t know before or that you know more vividly now?

Ms. Joachim: A lot. [laughs] I think that has been — there’s been some beautiful music to come out of this, but to me, more than anything, the research aspect of this has been such an incredible learning process, for me, to really understand — to go back to the beginning of history of Haiti: How did we get there? How did we become this place? And who are we? has been an incredible moment of discovery, for me.

But also, just to learn a little bit about — to learn a lot more about the dictatorship that my parents left — they were living in Haiti and immigrated to the United States, in the '70s, when it was a very challenging time, I think, for the country. It was a very rough time, because essentially, anyone who was a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, an intellect of any kind who could empower poor people or uneducated people, were being executed left and right.

That was a reality of life, and so you have this very sad time where there’s this mass exodus of some of the most educated people of the country, for fear of their own lives, really. And learning more about that dynamic, that dictatorship; understanding what it did to poor people and understanding that a lot of this music that I’ve uncovered was a threat, in that way: Haiti has two national languages, Haitian Creole and French, and most people in the countryside speak Haitian Creole. The more educated you are, the more likely you were to have learned French. And in many ways, at that time — through the '70s, through time, really, that was used as a tool to keep the uneducated, uneducated; to speak in French, and if they couldn’t understand it: “Oh, well.” And so many of these women, going back and singing songs in Creole, using these songs that were used as a way to have slaves share their messages — messages that are still very relevant today; certainly, they were 30 years ago; certainly, they were 100 years ago — and so they were giving power back to people in that way. And I think I never really understood that much about the real lineage, or history in a linear way, I think, of Haiti.

It’s also the type of thing where, I think — similar to the Great Migration in America, you find that there’s a certain — there’s a generation of African Americans who don’t talk about what used to be; who have this memory of slavery, a memory of Jim Crow, a memory of segregation, and they just don’t talk about it. I know so many African Americans who are like, “I don’t know. My grandmother just literally will never talk to me about that.”

Ms. Tippett: I think that’s often true of the first generation after trauma. It was also true of that first generation of Jews after the Holocaust.

Ms. Joachim: Exactly right; and so the same thing is, I think, true of so many Haitians who left the country at the same time that my parents did, where they talk to you about it; you know sort of vaguely; but they never tell you all of the history. And so for me, to be able to just really discover that, and to discover these connections through music, has been very eye-opening and explains to me so, so much of the history of how we got where we are and why, and who the players were in making it so that Haiti is what it is today; what some people consider not-so-great, but it’s wonderful.

[music: “Suite pou Les Cayes: Resevwa Li” by Nathalie Joachim]

Ms. Tippett: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is On Being. Today, I’m with the Haitian-American flutist Nathalie Joachim. We’re with a live audience at the On Being Studios on Loring Park, in Minneapolis.

[music: “Suite pou Les Cayes: Resevwa Li” by Nathalie Joachim]

Ms. Tippett: There’s a story you tell in your Liquid Music travel journal, which I’d recommend everybody go read online. So, for example, you went to the National Theater.

Ms. Joachim: Oh, my gosh.

Ms. Tippett: And so that’s kind of this both/and. So just tell — describe that place and that contradiction there.

Ms. Joachim: So my — it’s interesting to hear my parents talk about the Haiti of their childhood, what it would’ve been like to go — to think of the National Theater, was this beautiful, gorgeous place where so many of the most iconic concerts that people — live concerts that people can remember — took place, in Haiti. And to visit it today, you’d be very confused by the state of things. The theater is in major disrepair. I don’t even think I was supposed to walk on the stage, actually, but I did anyway, because I’m a rule-breaker. But I didn’t break my leg, so it was fine. And there was a point, actually, when I walked inside the theater, I walked to the very top seat. It’s an amphitheater in the round. And you can see out to the most gorgeous landscape. It’s stunning. It’s really beautiful.

And to think of — this open-air theater was this beautiful place where there’s so much history; to get to the National Theater, we had to drive through a pretty crazy part of Port-au-Prince. There’s just trash everywhere. There’s — it’s just in disarray. The whole place is in disarray. And it’s crazy, to me — it was, at that moment, to experience being in such a spiritual space, really; to feel — you can feel the energy of the history of that space. Especially, as a musician, to me, a concert hall is a place that I consider to be home. It’s a safe space, for me. So I like that feeling of being in a space where so many other musicians have shared their gifts. And it broke my heart to see that that part of town had become, just, not a place you want to be.

Ms. Tippett: Yeah, you wrote — you described what was gorgeous and moving and exalting about it. And then you also wrote, as you left: “Truth be told, my heart sank when we drove out of the dream gates into the nightmare streets covered in trash. There was literally a river of it. How did this happen to such a beautiful place?” And I’d really like to know how you start to think through that question in your mind.

Ms. Joachim: I think Haiti has been the victim of a very long series of unfortunate circumstances, many of which were intentional. It’s not easy, being the first successful slave uprising. You can imagine that there were people who were pretty upset about that, because slavery was an economy. [laughs] And to find out that your slaves could revolt and suddenly not do all of this work for free was going to hurt the pockets of very many people. And so I think —

Ms. Tippett: And you didn’t want it to set an example.

Ms. Joachim: Certainly not; you didn’t want anyone to get an inkling of an idea that they, too, could accomplish that thing. And so I think that some circumstances have been unfortunate; natural disasters — that’s the luck of the draw; where we are, or where we landed on the map.

But. I think, certainly, in terms of politics and economics, much of that was deliberate. Much of that had to do, unfortunately, with the United States interjecting themselves. And even though slavery was gone, I think the effects of colonialism are still very strong — everywhere, even right here. And so it does hurt my heart to see a river of trash and think, “How did we get to this place?” But then I also think about: Where did all these bottles actually come from? And I think if you look at any of those labels, you’re bound to see the United States on very many of them. And so this idea of having, in many ways, Haiti become dependent on the United States, has left us in a pretty tragic state. And then you couple that with a handful of corrupt politicians — not unique to Haiti; they’re all over the world [laughs] — and you have real people who are left in unfortunate living circumstances.

And so — I don’t know; I don’t know how we — I do see hope in getting us out of that place. I think of it often. And I will say right now: I’m not the only person looking to connect to their heritage, as you said earlier. I’m certainly not the only Haitian American; and I know that there are so many Haitians of my generation who are doing the thing that I think is very important, which is, going back, identifying and claiming our homes, reclaiming the language, reclaiming our space, and making sure that we don’t lose that so that we can make up for this mass exodus of educated people who left a generation ago, and begin to make a difference. And I do see it happening; I’ve experienced it myself in so many beautiful parts of Haiti. And I find — I see hope in that.

Ms. Tippett: So just maybe leave us with one more picture from your project. And this is of a person, and I want to say her name correctly: Émarante de Pradines?

Ms. Joachim: Émarante.

Ms. Tippett: Émarante, who died not long ago.

Ms. Joachim: Just a week ago, a little over a week ago now.

Ms. Tippett: Introduce us to her. Sounds like she was a very important person in this journey you’ve been on recently.

Ms. Joachim: Oh, my gosh. Émarante was sort of the last living icon of what was really known as Haiti’s Golden Age — a time where there was a huge coming-up of — in the arts, especially. Music, literature, art was very active at this time when she was at the top of her career.

Ms. Tippett: So would this have been mid-20th century?

Ms. Joachim: Well, not quite — early 20th century, yeah. No, you’re right, mid-20th century. We’re in 2018 now? Yeah, mid-20th century, and she was — oh, my gosh. OK, so I didn’t really know anything about her before this project, and essentially, I was able to meet her through a roundabout circuit of people who were like, “Oh, yeah, you could go to her house. She’s usually hanging out at this place, on this day.” And then I showed up, and she wasn’t there —

Ms. Tippett: And she was what, 93?

Ms. Joachim: She was 98 at the time.

Ms. Tippett: [laughs] 98, right.

Ms. Joachim: She turned 99 in September. So in my mind, I was like, I’m never gonna meet this woman. But we drove — we ended up finding out that she had a music school in a super-remote village. And we walk into this building, and there she is. There she is, at 98 years old, just standing there, an icon, a voice that so many Haitian people really value. There she is. I’m just standing across from her.

Ms. Tippett: And she had also left Haiti for a while…

Ms. Joachim: For a while; many of them did, yeah.

Ms. Tippett: And come back.

Ms. Joachim: She sure did. And that, again, is a trend that’s really happening. So many people left Haiti because being educated and trying to use your voice to do anything that was going to educate others became a real challenge of safety. And so she came to the United States; and she was a dancer, actually, for a long time, and ended up marrying her husband; and then, she eventually made her way back, because she felt like it was her duty, really, to take everything that she had learned in her life and go back and just give back to Haiti. That’s why my parents have gone back. That’s why I hope to go back. I think people want to reinvest in the people. And so it was amazing, to me, to be able to meet her; to know that in her old age, at 98, she was still giving back, up to the very end, at this music school. But what — oh, my gosh.

So last Saturday was when she passed away. And I got the message about her passing and fell to the floor in my kitchen and felt a real sense of loss, because she was such an amazing spirit. To hear her talk about her life, to hear her talk about her connection to music, to hear her talk about her deep belief and pride in the people of Haiti, to hear her advice to me, as a young woman trying to make my way in the arts, to receive support and love from her in that moment, was a gift that I will forever be grateful for.

[excerpt: Nathalie Joachim interviewing Émerante de Pradines]

[music: “Cimalo” by Émerante de Pradines]

Ms. Tippett: Let me just ask you one more question, and then, I think, we get to hear some more of your music. We’ve been talking around this the whole time, but I think about right now, and actually think in generational time, which is what you’re doing; which I think is what we all have to do. What makes you despair, and what gives you hope?

Ms. Joachim: What makes me despair, I think, is — and this is a complicated question, for me. But I think, at the end of the night, when I go to bed, what makes me worried about the future is something that I know is very important to both of my parents. And that’s: A lack of education, or a desire for people to restrict access to education, to me, is the biggest assault on any society, really. I think, to make sure that our children are educated, to make sure that the next generation is smarter and stronger than we are, and to make sure that we all spend every day continuing to learn about the world, about one another, is of critical importance for the future of this planet. And so small attacks and big attacks on education is a thing that makes me despair.

What was the other? Sorry.

Ms. Tippett: What gives you hope?


Ms. Joachim: Hope; I was in such despair for a moment. [laughs] What gives me hope? I think what gives me great hope is the continued connection to love; and loving one another. I think that our ability to love, to really go back to the beginning of this conversation, is something that is truly innate in all of us. I think we are all born with the ability to love one another; and to receive love is one of the biggest gifts, I think. It’s a better feeling, to me, than anything else. And that people are interested in continuing to learn to love one another, and hopefully, from this conversation, joining in the Haitian spirit of finding a way, each day, to give love to someone you know who needs it, is something that does give me hope that we’re all gonna make it through, somehow.

Ms. Tippett: Thank you.

Ms. Joachim: Thank you.


[music: “Suite pou Les Cayes: Alléluia” by Nathalie Joachim]

Ms. Tippett: Nathalie Joachim is a flutist and co-founder of the urban art pop duo, Flutronix. She’ll be premiering her complete work, Fanm d’Ayiti, commissioned by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music Series, on March 14th in St. Paul.

[music: “Suite pou Les Cayes: Alléluia” by Nathalie Joachim]

Staff: On Being is: Chris Heagle, Lily Percy, Mariah Helgeson, Maia Tarrell, Marie Sambilay, Malka Fenyvesi, Erinn Farrell, Laurén Dørdal, Tony Liu, Brettina Davis, Bethany Iverson, Erin Colasacco, Kristin Lin, and Jeffrey Bissoy.

Ms. Tippett: Special thanks this week to Zack Rose and Kate Nordstrum and all of the wonderful people at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. And a special shout-out too, to Chris Heagle, who weaves the art and craft of our show, week after week. Sometimes, as in this hour with Nathalie Joachim, he turns song into part of the conversation. He’s also producing the new podcast On Being Studios just launched, This Movie Changed Me, where movie music and dialogue are part of a rich, joyous experience.

[music: “Suite pou Les Cayes: Alléluia” by Nathalie Joachim]

Ms. Tippett: Our lovely theme music is provided and composed by Zoë Keating. And the last voice you hear, singing our final credits in each show, is hip-hop artist Lizzo.

On Being was created at American Public Media. Our funding partners include:

The Fetzer Institute, helping to build the spiritual foundation for a loving world. Find them at

Kalliopeia Foundation, working to create a future where universal spiritual values form the foundation of how we care for our common home.

Humanity United, advancing human dignity at home and around the world. Find out more at, part of the Omidyar Group.

The Henry Luce Foundation, in support of Public Theology Reimagined.

The Osprey Foundation, a catalyst for empowered, healthy, and fulfilled lives.

And the Lilly Endowment, an Indianapolis-based, private family foundation dedicated to its founders’ interests in religion, community development, and education.