Michèle Voltaire Marcelin is a renaissance artist. She paints. She is an actress — recently a reader in the performance of the Vagina Monologues at the Brooklyn Museum; her film credits include a role in the film The Man by the Shore. Her first novel “La Désenchantée” was published last year. Last month, she combined many of her talents in a spoken word performance at Solomon’s Porch in Brooklyn in an evening billed as “Sweet Sounds of Poetry and Music,” and sweet it was.
Sharing French and Creole poetry with her deep soulful voice, Marcelin wooed and won this New York audience, selecting from poets she had found solace with as a child while looking for refuge from her four rowdy older brothers in her father’s library.
In turn playful and enticing, or filled with grief, her training as an actress was apparent as she gestured and paused, breathed or scattered her words to express the different moods of her repertoire for the pleasure of the listeners. The audience was totally immersed in her words. “The language in which poetry is written is unimportant” said Marcelin “because ultimately, its true language is that of jazz: emotions and rhythm.”
Accompanying her were jazz saxophonist Buyu Ambroise and the members of his Blues in Red Band. Marcelin and Ambroise are old friends. Her husband, pianist Ernst Marcelin, (who was also keyboard player for Tabou Combo) was Ambroise’s best friend, and as youths they spent hours singing and playing jazz together.
In performance, she brought to life the words of Aragon, Leo Ferre, Barbara, along with her own poems and that of Haitian poets Syto Cave and James Noel. She sang the poem of Syto Cave, a piece made famous by Haitian actress and songstress Toto Bissainthe. “I wanted to pay homage to the poets who gave me joy.” she said.
The punctuating sounds of Buyu Ambroise’s Blues in Red Band offered a totally improvised musical collaboration. Marcelin would give a sign and Buyu would interpret the concept by mixing elements of blues, traditional Haitian melodies, and some short poly-rhythmic patterns from drums, bass and piano. Intermittently, there was a dialogue between Michele’s poetry and the band’s textured sounds exploring free jazz and a poetry dynamic.
In her last poem Bel Lanmou, introduced by Marcelin as “a lust poem to a lover”, the complicity between poet and musician as they riffed and played off each other was particularly evident. Her words must have resonated with the spectators who seemed transported as they smiled, laughed and cheered during her rhythmic delivery, echoed by Buyu’s rara. “Your love freed my body, your tongue unlocked my mouth and words came pouring out…” is a loose translation a Haitian friend ventured.
Following Michèle’s performance, Buyu Ambroise and Blues in Red Band performed a jazz set, introducing premier trumpet player Ambrose Akinmusire. This jazz band has now become truly international with an Italian keyboard player, an El Salvadorian bass player, a Guadelupean drummer, the newly added Nigerian-born trumpet player, a Haitian percussionist, and bandleader saxophone player, Buyu Ambroise.