In a rare encounter on the show “Mitan Kafoua,” hosted by Gregory Marc Lubin, two stellar musicians from the Haitian group ZAFEM, Dener Ceide and Reginald Cange, took the spotlight. This show, known as ‘The Crossroads,’ showcases the extraordinary work of everyday Haitians.
The duo, whose songs have pervaded Haitian lives, candidly opened up about their journeys, influences, and the highs of their careers. This blog post will delve into their interview in 2020, translating and interpreting their words and experiences to broaden their narrative’s reach.
Gregory: Hello, everyone. My name is Gregory Marc Lubin. Welcome to our program, Mitan Kafoua, ‘The Crossroads,’ where we spotlight everyday Haitians doing extraordinary work.
Today, we have two exceptional musicians from the group ‘Zafem.’ Their music has taken the country by storm.
Dener Ceide, the group’s songwriter, has composed numerous songs that are now part of our everyday lives. Meanwhile, Reginald has been serenading us for years and has become a role model for many aspiring Haitian musicians.
So, I’ll start with this question for both of you: Did you ever imagine you would reach the heights you have in your careers?
Reginald: Greetings, Mr. Lubin, and thank you for having us—also, warm regards to all viewers who are watching now or will watch this later online.
As for your question, yes, I had high ambitions and was blessed with a natural musical aptitude. Still, life is unpredictable, and I needed to figure out where I’d find myself. Given the opportunity to work on my passion, however, I embraced it wholeheartedly.
Dener Ceide: I want to greet everyone tuning into the show, including you, Gregory Marc, my co-composer, and our audience in Miami and worldwide through YouTube and other platforms.
To answer your question, life’s unpredictability didn’t allow me to foresee where I’d end up. But we’ve been passionate since childhood, and that passion has been our driving force.
Above all, I’m grateful for this journey. I’d like to encourage the youth watching now to speak highly of themselves. With belief, hard work, and passion, everything is possible.
Gregory: Two people have often greatly influenced us in our careers.
Dener, can you share your childhood, birthplace, and earliest encounters with Music?
Dener: I was born in the 7th section of Saint-Louis du Sud. Reginald and I were just there yesterday. I grew up in an era where FM radio wasn’t prevalent in the provinces, so we listened to AM stations, which often featured Spanish broadcasts.
Therefore, Spanish Music heavily influenced me, along with the socio-political climate of my youth. Specifically, the transitional period 1986 marked a significant shift in our governance and was a revolutionary time for many young people.
Influences during this time include artists like Manno Charlemagne and other writers in contests like the American Airlines Music competition. All these shaped my interest in Music. I discovered even more influences as I grew older, further shaping my musical journey.
Gregory: Your response about your encounter with Music, your childhood.
Reginald: My introduction to Music began from the first day I was born, thanks to my grandmother.
As an infant, I experienced issues with my eyes – opening and closing sporadically, with one even closing as if into a hole.
But then, as my mother prepared to take me home, my grandmother held me in her arms and began to hum a tune.
The melody coaxed my eye to open without causing any harm. It was at that moment that my grandmother brought Music into my life.
I was fortunate to grow up in an environment filled with Music. Music was always in the air, whether it was the percussion of drums or the melody of local bands playing near my house.
Interestingly, I found myself drawn to places where voodoo was practiced, inevitably resulting in a rhythmic blend permeating my home.
This blend and my grandmother’s lullabies became the cornerstone of my musical journey. In essence, my childhood environment was a musical school.
With varying rhythms and beats playing around me, I immersed myself in a sea of Music without even realizing how many melodies were being played.
My grandmother’s influence gave me life and exposed me to a world filled with diverse rhythms and sounds. She situated me in a setting where Music wasn’t simply an external experience but an intrinsic part of my life.
Gregory: So, do you remember the first time you started singing?
Yes, I remember. It was with a group of people who were probably older than me. I was part of a mature ensemble, a Carrefour roots group, and at that time, I wouldn’t say I was truly singing.
I was very young, managing my little two-stick ‘kata’ instrument. As a kid, I found joy in performing for others, often drawing attention for extended periods because the novelty of a child mixing with older musicians was appealing.
Back then, my voice still needed to be developed. I remember that clearly. This must have been around 1989 or 1990.
Gregory: Do you remember what they asked you to work on in it?
Reginald: Ah, I don’t remember.
Gregory: You didn’t remember, but it was a strong folkloric thing, Reginald, something about Haiti.
Gregory: When I reflect on myself as a professional musician and person, I realize that my upbringing and family dynamics significantly contribute to who I am.
I want to speak briefly about our shared understanding, but I’d like you to learn more about my roots.
Dener: It’s a combination of influences from my parents. I never got to know my father directly, but I’ve learned about him through myself and the comments of my numerous siblings, who tell me I sound like him.
It appears that I might resemble him quite a bit. He was known for his capability to bring about substantial changes, particularly in Saint-Louis du Sud, where he held several roles.
He served as a school director, worked in the judicial system with peace judges, and was an entrepreneur. Although I may not be proficient in these fields, I find that, much like him, I, too, wear multiple hats in Music, which I believe I’ve inherited from him.
As for my mother, she instilled spirituality in me and taught me the virtue of serenity. She often advised me, saying, ‘My son, I won’t leave anything for you. Whatever you’re doing in life, do it well.’
She stressed the importance of earning respect and maintaining a strong mindset. According to her, when you’re mentally strong, you’ve got everything you need.
She also taught me the importance of prayer, growing up Catholic herself. She would always say that one must pray to keep their spiritual balance.
My upbringing combines two worlds – my mother’s spiritual and nurturing side, filled with mercy and love, and my father’s entrepreneurial and political influences.
This unique combination breathed life into me and shaped the band we all know today. It’s this innate characteristic that I believe we all carry within us.
Gregory: Reginald, you’ve been part of numerous groups yet always want to step back and reinvent yourself. Every time you retreat, you seem stronger, surprising us with aspects of your talent we hadn’t seen before.
When we hear ‘savalou,’ we discover a new side of you. What’s your secret?
Many artists would love your ability to adapt and evolve, to follow your path without worrying about public opinion. Your Music seems like a mission to you, and you’re determined to fulfill it. How do you manage that?
Reginald: One crucial aspect is that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to a specific framework to enhance its beauty or enjoy its charm. It’s not about staying in one place just for public image.
It’s essential to be true to oneself and maintain authenticity.
This mindset allows me to make changes and adapt when I feel it’s necessary.
My occasional retreats are not meant to create disruption, but rather they’re for me to reorganize myself for my fans who expect to see and hear from me.
I can only say that I’m blessed. Only some have this opportunity or capability. It’s difficult to explain my process, but I’ve learned to appreciate what’s out there during my retreats.
I’ve developed a love for everything new and fresh. I don’t despise what I hear during these periods; I remain open and continuously consume Music, always learning.
It’s about something other than being on stage non-stop for decades. There’s a time when people might feel overexposed to my presence, and that’s when I know it’s time for a retreat.
The distance creates a longing that makes people eager to see me again.
During my retreats, I also seek to collaborate with people who can elevate my work, refining it to be cleaner and more beautiful.
Gregory: Dener, many people may need to know about your relationship with Reginald. You have admired each other’s artistic journeys from the same neighborhood, watching each other grow.
There’s a desire for collaborative music-making, perhaps even jazz, between you. For instance, you composed the Music on Nickenson Prid’homme’s first solo album, where Reginald sings.
But it seems the best results come from your collaboration in Zenglen. So, for understanding, can you elaborate on the history of this collaboration between you and Reginald?
Dener: Well, I believe it’s destiny. We’ve been fond of each other since childhood. Upon my arrival in Carrefour, Reginald was the first musician I met.
His talent struck me; I saw something special in him, leading us to develop a friendship when we were about 14. He was the first to get me outside my comfort zone and leave my porch because he needed a guitar.
I had a guitar at my place, so they called me to lend it to him. I was truly impressed when he strummed the guitar and began to sing.
We would roam around our area, observing jazz bands and local artists performing. We were both deeply interested in Music and would often attend rehearsals together.
That’s how we grew up—observing, learning, and eventually going our separate ways. From a distance, I followed his journey to stardom while I was evolving as an artist in my way.
Our paths crossed again in Zenglen, where we successfully worked together. Reginald once offered me a chance to sing a stave, but I deferred to him, acknowledging his superior singing talent.
I didn’t feel I dared to step fully into the music scene at that time as he had. Reginald, on the other hand, was always ready.
Then in 2012, I told him, ‘Let’s take a little time.’ I’ve always been someone who appreciates genuine, organic vibes. While many have approached me to collaborate on jazz projects, I wanted to maintain my sense of authenticity.
With Reginald, I knew I would always maintain that. So I suggested, ‘I think it’s time we do something together. Let’s make Music.’ And he agreed, saying, ‘Okay, it’s Zafem
Gregory: A common criticism we receive is our lack of active presence on social media and lack of interviews.
People interpret our actions in various ways, some positive and some negative – it’s the nature of the business. Is our media presence a priority, or are we more concerned with focusing on our art?
Reginald: You can only run a business by engaging with the media. It’s a bridge you must cross, whether you’re going up or down. Maybe people don’t see me on the internet 24/7, sharing my everyday activities—that’s what many call content, but I think it can make a person seem too mundane.
I prefer to connect with my audience only when I have something substantial to share, like a new product or song. I’ve released two songs recently – one a few days ago and another 15 days prior. I can’t be on the internet daily when I only have two new pieces of Music to share.
We respect our attentive audience, and they reciprocate that respect by giving us attention when we release something new. While some artists might thrive on constant online interaction, we believe in balance. When necessary, we’ll make some noise, but not incessantly.
Gregory: Dener, it doesn’t surprise me that things are going well for you. I knew it was inevitable. However, What surprised me was how quickly it happened, considering your perfectionist nature.
We’ve collaborated on many projects, and there’s one thing about you that many may not realize: you love to work with people, to inspire and compose for them.
You’re fearless in sharing your knowledge and talent. The same goes for you, Reginald. It’s rare to find such generosity in our industry. Is this trait something you’ve learned from your experiences, or does it stem from your upbringing?
Reginald: Encouraging others is empowering. When you see someone being held back, yet they persist because of their will and passion, you understand that trying to suppress them won’t stop them.
So, why not switch gears and help push them forward? When you lift others, they will always speak highly of you. One day they’ll acknowledge that you were there for them, and I won’t deny it.
Dener: In life, understanding one’s role is crucial. I know I can write well, but interacting with you, Marc Lubin, makes me take writing more seriously. Your background as a poet and an author influences me.
About 15 or 16 years ago, you boosted my self-confidence and pushed me to become a better writer and lyricist. I understand my role, too.
When I compose a song, I can imagine someone else’s voice, like Reginald’s or someone else’s, bringing it to life. It’s not because I can’t sing it, but certain voices are better suited for some songs.
It’s simple: what you put in is what you get out. We should strive to grow collectively, not just individually.
Combining my talent with Reginald’s or yours can create something more beautiful, as one complements the other. It’s about recognizing your role and supporting one another.
Gregory: I recall when you were working with Nick, and you were stuck while writing a song. You suggested we should call Marc for help, and Reginald agreed.
As for singing the beautiful melody, we were wondering where Reginald should come in since he could sing anything. He asked for a moment, stepped outside for a few minutes, and when he returned, he laid down the melody, and we knew it was perfect.
Also, I remember when we first met, you were playing the keyboard for a radio spot for Siwèv. I was surprised as I didn’t know you played the keyboard.
And at Nasser’s studio, Reginald surprised us by playing the guitar. Reginald, how many instruments do you play? You even play the drums. People often forget that the voice is an instrument, too.
Gregory: Dener, whether it’s the keyboard, drums, or guitar, you’re multi-talented. You can program various instruments to create the sounds you want in your Music. Drums are your first instrument, but you also play the keyboard, bass guitar, and sing.
Gregory: Looking back, when you were 14 or 15, you had aspirations, and today you’ve achieved them. Reginald, give me some examples from your youth. You dreamed of being in a band.
Has that been realized?
Reginald: I always wanted to do Music and make a living. However, I had not decided on a specific band when I moved to the States. The band I joined differed from the young bands I played with in Haiti.
I wasn’t known for my voice and wasn’t invited into a band for that reason. Yet, my Music allowed me to leave a small but indelible mark on my country’s cultural scene.
Gregory: Reginald, your voice is certainly unique. Does anyone else in your family sing?
Reginald: Some in my family hum a bit during trips and on a vibe, but no one quite sings like me. My grandmother was a gifted samba singer. She taught me the rhythm and encouraged me to sing loudly.
Dener: Since I was eight, I remember seeing Tabou Combo perform and being determined to join that band. I eventually spent five fulfilling years with them.
I was about 14 or 15 when Foudyiz came to Haiti. I remember seeing Loren sing ‘Kelinmi,’ ‘Sofi,’ and ‘Ajan Despero’ and being so inspired that I wanted to collaborate with her. Now, I have my band, Zafem.
Gregory: Music evolves as people and sounds do over time. It’s all part of a continuum. Every experience, good or bad, contributes to my growth as an artist.
Gregory: Who were some musicians or groups you’ve learned from, those who challenged you in composition?
Dener: Joining Tabou Combo was my first major challenge. They were veterans I admired. They doubted I could play Konpa music because they considered me a ‘little American.’
Overcoming their skepticism and gaining their respect was my biggest challenge. Nickenson Prid’homme also profoundly influenced me, encouraging me to delve deeper into Konpa.
Gregory: What was the first song you composed with Nick?
Dener: The first song was ‘Disappointment.’ Nick did the beat, and I wrote the melody and lyrics.
Gregory: Reginald, if there was no Zafem, no Dener, what would you be doing?
Reginald: I’d still be doing Music. Even if not part of a team, Music is in my blood. It’s my passion.
Gregory: Zafem has become a reference for Haitian Music with just two songs. Many are trying to emulate your style online. How do you feel about being game-changers?
Reginald: It’s an honor, though I believe we’ll feel prouder once our album is in people’s hands. We aim to bring a refreshing alternative to Haitian Music.
Our approach might not be mainstream, but we believe in creating Music that resonates with all kinds of people because we feel they are yearning for something different.
Gregory: In this era of advanced technology, a band doesn’t need to rely solely on live performances. They can utilize a YouTube channel, perform weekly, or strategize to accumulate views, earning some revenue.
Given the current climate of the pandemic, is this a digital approach that Zafem has considered? I understand a strong desire to perform live, but if the situation remains unchanged, could an online presence become a viable option?
Dener: Absolutely, we must deliver for the fans. That’s excellent advice you’ve given us, and we’ve taken note. However, making a hit online can be a costly venture.
We’d need to strategize uniquely to satisfy our audience without overspending. Yet, our greatest joy comes from performing live, and we hope the situation will improve so we can continue doing so.
Gregory: Zafem has done something different: you released the Music first, followed by a video. Interestingly, no one complained, which seems to buck the current trend of bands releasing Music and videos simultaneously. How did you come to adopt this unique approach?
Reginald: We believe in diversifying our approach to stay fresh. Sometimes, in always looking forward, one can forget important aspects.
We wanted to reflect on the traditional method, where the Music came first, and a video was made if it was successful. Audio-visuals are often prioritized nowadays, but we wanted to try something different and connect with our roots.
Gregory: Given the feedback you’ve received so far, are there any criticisms you’re taking seriously or any praises that you’ve found particularly encouraging?
Dener: One common critique was our lack of presence on social networks. Although we don’t necessarily have to follow the traditional route, there is an importance in maintaining open communication with the press and the public, which we’re starting to implement.
Gregory: In an ideal world, would Zafem like to perform regularly, say every weekend, or do you have different plans?
Dener: Our goal is not just to perform within our community. Ideally, we’d like to take our Music elsewhere and reach a wider audience.
Gregory: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with the public, something I didn’t ask you about?
Reginald: We’re excited to continue sharing our Music with the public, and there’s still much more to come. We’re eagerly awaiting the time to play live for our fans again.
Moreover, I urge all Haitians to send positive energy to our country. We all must strive to improve the situation rather than merely criticize.
Dener: Adding to that, we must work towards a better future for our country. Many educated young people here understand the concept of a good standard of living. We must leave the country to those currently managing it well. It’s up to us to write a new story for Haiti.
Gregory: Gentlemen, I thank you for your time today. You’ve both been an inspiration to me in developing my melodic sense.
I value you and will continue to follow your work. As we part, let’s continue valuing one another and our work. Thank you, Reginald and Dener, for joining me at this crossroads.
The enchanting conversation between Gregory, Dener, and Reginald at the “Mitan Kafoua” show brought an insightful look into their lives and the undeniable impact of their music on Haitian culture.
Each of them had a unique musical journey marked by distinct influences, imbuing their songs with a profound resonance that echoes through the hearts of their listeners.
As their music continues to be a staple in our lives, their shared insights add another dimension to our appreciation of their work.