A report by Cecelia Nasmith for Northumberland Today.
Our idea of a protest song may not be the kind of music guitarist Paul Beaubrun grew up with, but his childhood was filled with musical pleas for a better world.
The Haitian-born musician grew up during the era of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, and his parents spent the mid-’80s singing out against the leader’s dictatorial style of government.
Beaubrun had his own personal music school as the son of two musicians (members of the Grammy-nominated band Boukman Eksperyans), who took him along when they travelled. Years later, he has developed his own kind of music that he will share at an April 15 concert in Cobourg called Paul Beaubrun and Friends.
His guitar skills have impressed Jackson Browne, with whom he is collaborating on a new album, and his vocals weave English, French and Creole together in a rich and transfixing mix.
Beaubrun still recalls the message in his parents’ music — “telling the people exactly what’s happening,” he described it in a recent interview.
“‘Do not listen to the government — for hundreds of years they have been telling us what they are going to do, and they never do it. Make your own community better yourself. Don’t wait for the government to do anything for you, because they will not.'”
Aristide would eventually resign and flee the country. Long before that, however, his parents would be forced out.
“The government was not so happy with the messages of the songs, and we had to leave the country,” he recalled.
Beaubrun was a refugee before he even finished high school, ending up in New York at the age of 17. But his new home town offered wonderful opportunities to meet extraordinary people who could help him develop his own musical voice.
He has played alongside some of the world’s best artists, including Arcade Fire, Maxwell, Emmanuel Jal, Brad Paisley, Sheryl Crow and David Byrne in venues such as New York’s Radio City Music Hall, Toronto’s Massey Hall, Nashville’s Ryman Theatre and Chicago’s House of Blues.
A recent list would include Jackson Browne, Roseanne Cash, Marc Cohen and Eddie Vedder. In September, he opened for Lauryn Hill at Massey Hall and played a Haiti fund-raiser at Toronto’s Casa Loma during the Toronto Film Festival.
“I have played with some of the best musicians in Canada, and I am very honoured,” he said.
His Creole album Vilnerab went to number-one on iTunes in the World Music category. In 2016, he was nominated for the Dora Award for outstanding sound design.
Less well known is the philanthropic work he does for the youth of Haiti.
Beaubrun has joined forces with the not-for-profit Artists for Peace and Justice. He is currently working in collaboration with Jackson Browne and several other artists (including Jon Russell, Jonathan Wilson and Raul Rodriguez) on an upcoming album for the group, as well as playing an active role on the board and performing at their events across North America.
In this way, he can play the music he loves, while promoting an awareness of Haitian art and culture — and of the country’s incredibly talented young people.
Beaubrun is not surprised that he’s been compared to Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix, given his Caribbean roots and long dreadlocks. While he loves those two artists and admits there is some influence there, his own favourites tend to be Nina Simone and some African artists.
The show he will give in Cobourg will be a musical journey, he said — “first to travel to a different place with a very unique Caribbean flavour, and next to some America blues, soul and rock, learning some new words in Creole and listening to a new message of unity and love.”
A lovely personal touch will be the appearance of local favourite Saskia Tompkins. When she was seriously ill last August, Beaubrun played at a benefit concert for her. Since then, Tompkins has recorded tracks on Beaubrun’s soon-to-be-released album and, with her son Oisin, will share the stage with him at Victoria Hall.
The April 15 concert takes place at the Victoria Hall Concert Hall (55 King St. W., Cobourg). A cash bar will be open, and tickets are $30, available from the Concert Hall box office (905-372-2210).