Morse, his wife Lunise, and a group of folkloric musicians and dancers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Richard would become the songwriter and lead male vocalist. Lunise became the lead female vocalist. The other band members were all recruited from Port-au-Prince, including some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. The name of band, RAM, comes from Morse's initials. His father, Richard M. Morse , was an American academic sociologist and author , and his mother was a famous Haitian singer, Emerante de Pradine.
He joined a band in New York City , called The Groceries , that played new wave and punk rock music with Caribbean musical style elements. He was dating a woman whose father strongly disapproved of his daughter dating a musician, and he had a falling out with his fellow band members over musical differences. A conversation with a French record producer persuaded Morse to start over and move to Port-au-Prince to better explore Haitian and Caribbean music.
In , he signed a year lease to manage the Hotel Oloffson, then in near ruins and the inspiration for the fictional Hotel Trianon in Graham Greene 's famous novel The Comedians. Morse and the band began experimenting with the new sounds of rasin music. One of the most important musical movements that swept Haiti in the years following the exile of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier , mizik rasin, or simply rasin, combines elements of traditional Vodou ceremonical and folkloric music with rock and roll.
The ancient drum rhythms of former African slaves combined with the beat of American rock and roll was a perfect combination for the musical background of Morse. The Hotel Olofsson was also a perfect venue for rehearsals and performances. When not on tour elsewhere in the country, RAM began playing a regular performance every Thursday night at the hotel.
During Carnival in Port-au-Prince in , RAM was ordered by the regime to perform on the Champs du Mars, a large open park in the center of the city. The regime was determined to have a rasin band playing during Carnival to lend an air of normalcy to the event. Before a crowd of over 10, people, the band sang an old folk ballad with the refrain "Kote moun yo? We do not see them. The junta hesitated to arrest or physically harm the band, however, as RAM's existence was useful for presenting an appearance of legitimacy to the outside world, and because Morse was a United States citizen.
The lyrics for the song were of Vodou folkloric origins, adapted to rasin music. Despite no overt references to the political situation, it was widely played on the radio and immediately taken up throughout the country as an unofficial anthem of support for Aristide. By the summer of , playing or singing the song was banned under military authority, and Morse was subjected to death threats from the regime.
The band first made the world scene in , when one of its most popular singles, "Ibo Lele Dreams Come True ", a song with both English and Creole lyrics, was included in the soundtrack for the major motion picture Philadelphia , next to famous musicians including Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young.
This new-found success overseas did not, however, translate to security at home. By April , the band had to finish rehearsals before dark so that band members heading home could cross an open area in the city center known as "The Frontier" without too much risk of random violence. While the band played on, Morse was physically being carried out of the hotel by armed men.
Using a wireless microphone, he sang in a verse in Creole that was not in the song, "Kadja bosou a ye ma prale" - a prayer to the Vodou loa to grant him safe passage.
His kidnappers released him and took another captive instead. Concerned about the safety of their fans, the band ceased performing for several weeks. Attendees included both black Haitians and members of the nation's less populous racial groups. Until September 19, , when U. Aristide aides approached the band to first request songs favorable to the government and later threaten the band when Morse refused.
They dismantled the float on which RAM was scheduled to perform in the upcoming annual Carnival on February The mayor had taken offense to the lyrics of one of the band's songs, which he interpreted as an accusation of corruption. However, the brakes on the truck were sabotaged and during the Carnival procession, the truck swerved into the crowd, killing eight and forcing the members of the band to flee for their lives. Nothing's changed, the teams have changed but not the modus operandi.
A release, MadiGra, was a "greatest hits" compilation of songs from the three previous albums. A fifth album, with a French language title, Le Jardin "The Garden" in English , also released in , contains mostly new material, some of which is considered critical of Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Fanmi Lavalas.
Despite Morse's comments to the press and the band's famous rivalry with Manno Charlemagne, RAM was nevertheless still associated with its past support for Aristide and Lavalas and its opposition to the previous military junta. On November 4, , three members of the band were illegally detained by uniformed Haitian police during RAM's weekly Thursday night performance. The three band members all lived in a Port-au-Prince neighborhood where support for Aristide was reportedly strong.
RAM is expected to release a sixth album in the summer of , which is reported to include a single entitled "Jamaican Vacation", a song about Jean-Bertrand Aristide's exile from Haiti that included a stop in Jamaica. The mizik rasin movement began soon after the exile of dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in When Jean-Claude Duvalier fled the country, a widespread dechoukaj uprooted the most oppressive elements of the former regime and liberated the Vodou religion from its entanglements with the government.
Unable to do so under the Duvaliers, musicians were eager to adopt traditional Vodou folk music rhythms, lyrics, and instrumentation into a new sound that incorporated elements of rock and roll and American pop music. This style of modern music reaching back to the roots of Vodou tradition came to be called mizik rasin in Creole or musique racine in French.
The Hotel Oloffson was one of the early concert venues for rasin bands and performers beginning in Rasin bands incorporated not only traditional Vodou folk music lyrics and rhythms into modern musical style, but included petwo drums and rara horns, instruments used in Vodou religious ceremonies.
When Morse gathered together dancers and musicians to create RAM in , the rasin style was popular in Port-au-Prince and gaining popularity in the rest of the country.
It was widely understood to be a criticism of the corrupt military government of General Prosper Avril. Eventually, Richard Morse became so involved in the Vodou religion through his music that he was initiated as a houngan , or Vodou priest, in Some get possessed by the loas, to the rhythm of the drums, but it's a natural state when it happens.
You can't fake it. Elements of other Haitian and Caribbean musical traditions, such as kompa , find their way into the music as well. He tells what's real, what's going on, like Bob Marley.
Morse, his wife Lunise, and a group of folkloric musicians and dancers in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
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