Paul Beaubrun Shares His Love For Haiti In Song: 'Our Message Is Still Strong'

Jun 16, 2018
Originally published on June 16, 2018 8:18 am

The Creole word ayibobo carries many meanings. It can mean blessings or welcome. It can describe something wise or something you like. For Haitian singer-songwriter Paul Beaubrun, it signifies strength and resilience of his country, which is why he chose it to be the title of his latest album.

Ayibobo's title track was written long ago when Beaubrun left a politically fractured Haiti to live with his aunt in New York at the age of 17.

"Ayibobo is like a blessing of, 'I'm still alive. And my family, we are here and our message is still strong,' " he says.

Beaubrun's father, Lolo Beaubrun, is one of the most recognizable musicians in Haiti. He leads the family musical collective Boukman Eksperyans, which also had to leave Haiti once because of its activism against the country's rulers. Like his father before him, Beaubrun intertwines political activism into his music and performances. His singles "Rise Up" and "Remember" invoke heartfelt patriotism. Earlier this year, Beaubrun performed some of the album's tracks in Times Square after President Trump allegedly made disparaging comments about Haitian immigrants.

"The music, when I sang that day, was about, 'No matter what anybody says, we know who we are. We know where we come from,' " he says. "We might be struggling right now, but our spirit is always going to be on fire."

Beaubrun spoke with NPR's Scott Simon about representing Haiti in song with Ayibobo, available now, and performed "Rise Up" live in-studio. Hear their conversation and the performance at the audio link.

Web intern Emily Abshire contributed to this story.

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Paul Beaubrun's new album "Ayibobo" - that's Creole for blessings - is a celebration of Haitian culture. It's also become an inspiration for activists, including a song on the album, "Rise Up."


PAUL BEAUBRUN: (Singing) Rise up, music (ph). Rise up with me.

SIMON: Paul Beaubrun joins us now from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

BEAUBRUN: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Help us understand how this word, ayibobo, is used.

BEAUBRUN: Yes. Ayibobo means blessings or welcome. It's a very warm word to use when you see someone, and you want to give them some blessings. Also, you can say ayibobo if they say something wise. Also, something that you like, you can say ayibobo for that, you know? And it's our word. And it means a lot to us. It's like, you know, it's life.

SIMON: Let's hear your song, "Ayibobo."


BEAUBRUN: (Singing) I heard my momma screaming, eyes got misty waiting, saying we've been hiding (ph).

This song, it's a personal song. It's, like, my mom talking to me. And, you know, I left Haiti when I was 17 because of political problems in Haiti. The government sent people with guns in front of our house. And that's how I left and came to New York. I live at my aunt's house. And then that's where I wrote that song, "Ayibobo," a long time ago.

(Singing) Ayibobo, ayibobo, ayibobo, ayibobo, ayibobo, ayibobo, ayibobo, ayibobo, ayibobo.

So ayibobo - it's like a blessing of - I'm still alive. My family, we are here, and our message is still strong. And everything that my mom and my dad taught me, I'm still here standing. That's what it means.

SIMON: Let me ask you about another song. This one's called "Remember."


BEAUBRUN: (Singing) Remember, one day, we're going to see the light. Remember, one day, we're going to make it right. Remember, one day, we're going to unite.

This song gets around the same time when I wrote "Ayibobo." And you can hear the influence, you know, like, you can little R&B and soul. To me, the most important thing about this song, it's the evolution of the music. For me, coming from Haiti, and to be able to play, you know, R&B, soul, to me, I can easily see where all these type of music comes from. It's the same type of music when I hear them.


SIMON: Do you feel Haitians are kind of at the center of a lot of debate on immigration in this country right now?

BEAUBRUN: Yes, we are. And it's been for years. This year, also, it's been everywhere. And I had a chance to speak about it a little bit and sing for my people in Times Square when we did it - I don't remember - a few months back. And it was about that. And it was about all the things that, you know, the president said about the countries - you know, Haiti and Africa and Latin America. And I had a chance, you know, to talk and speak about that, yeah.

SIMON: What do you say? And what does your music say?

BEAUBRUN: The music, when I sang that day, was about no matter what anyone, you know, says, we know who we are. We know where we come from. We know the aid - we know everything that we brought to America, everything that we did to the world. We changed the world when we did our revolution, first to abolish slavery. And that's what I was saying.

I was saying, no matter what, it doesn't matter because we know who we are. We might be struggling right now, but our spirit is always going to be on fire. We're always going to be who we are no matter what.

SIMON: Do you get back to Haiti?

BEAUBRUN: Yes, I go often. I'm going the end of this month to present the album and bring it to some press in Haiti and talk to people and meet - you know, I just love to go there and see my family, my friends and all the people there.

SIMON: Yeah. It'll give you a special satisfaction to be there with this album, I'd imagine.

BEAUBRUN: Yes. Yes, it represents, you know, not only a personal story of mine, but it represents a lot of people going through the same thing that I'm going through as Haitian and as everyone, also - anyone who's listening also right now.

SIMON: I gather you've got your guitar in the studio with you.

BEAUBRUN: Oh, yeah.

SIMON: Well, thanks for bringing in your friend. Can we hear "Rise Up"?

BEAUBRUN: Yes. Let me (guitar strumming) - this is "Rise Up." (Playing guitar) To all the people listening right now, this song is for you.

SIMON: Paul Beaubrun's new album, "Ayibobo." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.