Hope for Haiti

Posted by Pete DeMola on 29. Jan 2010

BEIJING, Jan 29 - In addition to the Eat for Haiti campaign currently underway here in Beijing in which a dozen-or-so local restaurants are aiming to raise 200,000 RMB to benefit those affected by mid-January's disaster, the Funk*Fever crew -- a local sextet who excel in the art of creating classic funk and soul grooves -- aim to raise 50,000 RMB with their Hope for Haiti benefit concert on Wed, Feb 3 at Yugong Yishan.

Participants read like a society registrar of the city's finest dancefloor talent.

Joining the Funk*Fever folks are fellow dancefloor destroyers the Meiwenti Sound Project (reggae, dub and dancehall), the Verse (big band funk), the Syndicate's Blackie and Slide (drum and bass), the 15-piece multinational Afrobeat crew Afrokoko Roots and the Skarving Orchestra (they're a ska band, get it?).

While most of us are familiar with the details of the massive earthquake that struck the impoverished Caribbean nation late in the afternoon on Tues, Jan 12, we'd like to issue a brief summary to underline the profound severity of the situation:

The International Red Cross estimates that the 7.0 magnitude quake that obliterated the capital city of Port-au-Prince affected three million people -- a full one-third of Haiti's total population.

Haitian authorities have confirmed a death toll of 170,000 -- a number that will undoubtedly continue to grow -- and an additional 250,000 injured, many of whom are one of the 75 new amputees per day in dire need of post-op treatment and therapy.

An estimated one in five jobs in the country's primarily agricultural economy have vanished and legions are now homeless.

Striking at the root of power itself, both figuratively and literally, the earthquake destroyed both the Presidential Palace and the National Assembly, leading many to question if the vulnerable nation's already-fragile government continues to be operational as a result of the absence of civil institutions and perhaps more importantly, President René Préval's failure to appear in public or even directly address the nation until a week after the disaster.

Questions linger as to the nation's ability for self-government in the future.

This is only the latest in a long string of natural disasters and setbacks to strike the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere; a borderline failed state in which 80% of the population are living below the poverty line and are still trying to regain their footing (if they ever had it to begin with) after centuries of violent political instability and misrule, foreign intervention and myriad other maladies, including, but not limited to, a lack of health care and education networks, rampant corruption, environmental degradation and human slavery.

Yeah, that's right: Human fucking slavery. Kid slavery.

It's a no-brainer that the Haitians could use all of the support that the international community can muster -- including from those of us chattering away supinely right here in the WLIB community.

One-hundred percent of ticket sales from Wednesday's event -- and 10% of the bar receipts -- will be donated to Partners In Health (PIH), a non-profit health care organization that was founded by award-winning American physician, anthropologist and Haiti expert Paul Farmer.

The largest health care providers in rural Haiti, the Boston-based PIH have a proven track record of humanitarian relief in their 20 years of operating within the country, so rest assured, they have their shit together, which should mollify even the most cynical among us.

Here, one of the event's organizers, Funk*Fever's Jeff Hinson, fills us in on what to expect at the Hope for Haiti benefit concert.

WLIB: Give us a rundown on the birth of the Funk*Fever crew, and fill us in on who you guys are and what you do.

Jeff Hinson: Funk*Fever sprung up nearly a year ago when friends (Roobin, Martin and myself) who happened to DJ (amongst other things) decided that the Beijing scene could really use a solid night of dancing to something other than techno, house or hip-pop. We've grown since then, adding members -- two DJs (Jon and Suiki) and a percussionist (Sam) -- in addition to refining our goals and outlook. Currently, our main focus -- besides throwing fun parties -- is exposing people to funk, soul, Afrobeat and various connected musical forms, as well as helping to provide some background info and introduction through our newly-launched website and podcast.

WLIB: Tell us about some of the artists performing at this benefit show.

Hinson: We've put together a stellar lineup for the night with three bands and three DJ collectives representing a variety of Afro and Caribbean-based music and closely tied forms. The Skarving Orchestra is a killer seven-piece original Jamaican-style ska band, Afrokoko Roots is an international fifteen-piece Afrobeat band in the vein of Fela Kuti and the Verse is an exciting ten-piece funk big band who bring a ton of energy with original tunes as well as covers. Meiwenti Sound Project is a positive roots reggae unit, the Syndicate have consistently delivered amazing drum & bass and Funk*Fever bring the raw funk, soul, Afrobeat and rare grooves.

WLIB: How did you decide upon Partners In Health as the beneficiary for your donations?

Hinson: After looking around at the various options, Partners In Health (PIH) fit our quite-demanding requirements. First off, we wanted an organization that would put the highest percentage of donations to work on the ground, which narrowed it down to a few groups that have stated 100% of the funds donated for disaster relief would go directly to those in need (such as Wyclef's Yele Foundation, Hope For Haiti and PIH). We also wanted someone whose interests went beyond the immediate disaster, and also displayed longterm interests in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. PIH has already been building sustainable health services in Haiti for 20 years, so we can rest assured that the all the funds will be put to good use.

WLIB: Describe a typical Funk*Fever gig in ten words or less.

Hinson: Fun-fun-funky good times. Great people. Raw beats.

WLIB: There's a lot of cross-genre experimentation going on now in Beijing between local artists. Any plans for your crew to engage artists from different genres in the future?

Hinson: We've all got diverse musical interest and funk has quite a broad reach -- we already try to incorporate as diverse as an array of forms as possible into our own nights to continually keep things fresh. And we've already done some double-billed nights with hip hop heads like the Beats Royale and Glamour & Glitz crews. We're definitely looking to combine various musical elements in interesting ways that make sense. On Fri, Feb 26 at Yugong Yishan, we will be playing with Afrokoko Roots and Jekai Soulspeak (Oddibles Crew, California) who will do a live set alongside Sam on percussion.

WLIB: The Beijing music scene needs more __________ and less __________.

Hinson: The Beijing music scene needs more support for diversity and less Akon.

WLIB: What's the deal with the asterik (*) in your name?

Hinson: Purely aesthetic, definitely influenced from us growing up with the 1980s graffiti-mania!

WLIB: If given a direct platform to address the Haitian community, what would you like to say?

Hinson: Keep hope alive! Around the world, people's hearts go out to you in these times of struggle and rebuilding. From as far as Beijing, we hope you can feel the strength of solidarity in the human spirit!

WLIB: Is there anything else that you'd like to share with the WLIB community?

Hinson: We all hope that you support victims of this and other tragedies. Stay educated, awake and at the very least, come and party with us for a great cause!

The Hope for Haiti Benefit Concert will be held on Wed, Feb 3 at Yugong Yishan. Show kicks off at 7:30pm, 50 RMB.

Image: A child sits in the Haitian countryside on July 25, 2008. Use courtesy of Flickr user Billtacular through Creative Commons.

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