Haitian American musician Nathalie Joachim pays tribute to underrepresented women of Haiti

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Flutist and composer Nathalie Joachim first came up with the idea for her debut album in late 2015. She was in Haiti, exploring her Haitian heritage and wanted to know about female artists from the island. Together with her parents, she could only come up with a dozen or so.

“I was really inspired to make an album centered around the voices of female artist from Haiti largely because they’re left out of Haiti’s musical history.”

“I was really inspired to make an album centered around the voices of female artists from Haiti largely because they’re left out of Haiti’s musical history,” she said.

Some women on the list included singer Emerante de PradinesMilena Sandler (daughter of Toto Bissainthe), and vodou revolutionary Carole Demesmin.

Joachim’s Grammy-nominated album, “Fanm d’Ayiti,” sets out to correct some of the omissions of women underrepresented in Haitian history. She thinks this is “a beautiful way to represent the women of Haiti.” 

“Fanm d’Ayiti” translates into “Women of Haiti.” On the album, Joachim features new song arrangements and snippets from recorded interviews with some of the women. One voice heard is that of Joachim’s own musical hero and maternal grandmother, Ipheta Bellegarde, because “her voice was one that was quite important to me throughout the course of her life.” 

The song featuring Bellegarde’s voice is also one her grandmother wrote. It’s called “Madan Bellegarde.” Bellegarde died in 2015. Joachim says her grandmother was “criticized her whole life because she became a widow when my mother was still an infant, quite young, and never remarried. She really chose to live a life independently of her own design.”

Joachim would often hear her grandmother share stories about what life was like as a single mom in Haiti in the late 1940s and early ’50s. She says her grandmother wrote the song because she was being “judged by all of the sinners around her, people who committed much grander sins than being an unmarried woman, but that she knew at the end of the day she would not be judged by God. And so she wrote this song and would sing it.” Now, Joachim sings it. 

Joachim also recorded with a girls’ choir in her family’s farming village Dantan. “[It’s] a very small place with just one street that has a church and a school and that’s it,” she said. “And I hope that any one of them, if not all of them, are inspired by how we’ve been able to spread their voices from this small spot in Haiti across the world.” 

Joachim says she hopes her album touches young women everywhere and that they will “take away the strength and the power and continue to lift each other up … [and to] look to your elders and find strength in their stories and to be sure to leave a pathway for those coming up behind you. We’re all connected.”

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