There have not been too many occasions when I have reviewed a CD by a solo artist, but I could not be happier to do so in this Chronique when the artist is none other than the Haitian music icon Félix Guignard. Indeed, a few months ago, Louis Carl Saint-Jean, a kind of walking encyclopedia of the older generation of Haitian musicians, totally surprised me by sending me Felix Guignard's CD entitled “Aubade”, knowing full well how I appreciated musicians of the older generation such Guy Durosier, Herby Widmaier, Edner Guignard (Felix's brother) and so on. Félix Guignard comes from one of the most famous Haitian musical families in Haiti. Louis Carl Saint-Jean, in an article written last year about Félix's brother, Edner Guignard, says the following: “Félix and Edner are monumental figures and legends in the world of Haitian piano…” Many years after he started his piano career, Félix Guignard has not lost a beat, as the CD shows. He is just like old wine: the older, the better.
The CD is a real showcase of his talent. Having played in a variety of the most famous groups such as Super Jazz des Jeunes, Ibo Lélé, Orchestre El Rancho etc, and thanks to his solid classical background, he feels at ease playing anything. The title tune “Aubade”, written by the pianist, is beautifully enhanced by the accordion which he plays himself. He is in turn romantic, nostalgic, light-hearted. From time to time, he intersperses some classical passages here and there, for our delight.
When playing with those different bands, Guignard also played some solid accordion and there is nothing more relaxing than listening to the romantic sound of an accordion played in such a fluid manner by Guignard. This combination is most harmonious on many of the 19 tunes on the album.
As any good pianist, Guignard pays tribute to King Blues in the most effective manner, using these unmistakable blues phrases. Anyone who is familiar with early Haitian music knows how close Haitian and Cuban culture and music were, easily influencing each other. That is very much in evidence in tune No. 6 for example, where you can hear different movements, even some old calypso. Guignard migrates easily from the compositions of Antalcidas Murat to our folklore, our “méringue nationale”, to Agustin Lara, to Erroll Garner and back to his own compositions. That is how eclectic he can be, doing it effortlessly. Listen for example to tune No. 8, a “méringue nationale” composed by Romual Pinchinat, a beauty. Listen to the effectiveness of Félix Guignard's left hand accompanying the melody. That is the mark of a studied musician. Tune No. 10, among others offers such example. The sound is full and most pleasing to the ear. Tune No 12 “Ti Zando”, a classic Haitian folkloric tune, also shows how strong his left hand is.
Tune No. 13 “Granada” is another one of those classics which will never die. Guignard does just a wonderful and again the left hand is mo evident.
There are not too many of these living icons left, but how lucky we are to have Felix Guignard around and still kicking. We have the impression that Guignard he is just having fun. Listen to tune No. 18, when he goes cheerfully from one tune to another to close the song with a sensitive ballad that is most touching. The sound coming of the accordion is just gorgeous.
Félix Guignard may not be a young man, but you could not tell from his playing which remains as vigorous and harmonious as ever. It is no wonder that he is considered, or rather, that he is, a monument of Haitian music.
Félix Guignard is one of the last remaining active Haitian icons still alive. Listening to his vigorous playing is no indication that he intends to stop playing, to our benefit, young and old.
Help fight Haitian CD piracy; it is bad for everyone.
Serge Bellegarde, for Windows on Haiti – April 2008
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