Name: Marie Clothilde “Toto” Bissainthe
Date of Birth: (1934 – June 4, 1994)
Place of Birth: Cap Haitian, Haiti
Why she is a Fanm Fò: Toto Bissainthe was a Haitian actress and singer who dazzled audiences across the Caribbean and Europe. She left her mark on theater and the Haitian music scene with her unique sound, powerful texts, and innovative arrangements of traditional Haitian music. Bissainthe wrote with brutal honesty and vulnerability, that touched the hearts and reality of many Haitians. Even today, as I listen to pieces such as “Ayiti mwen pa renmen’w ankò” and “Ou lage kò’w” I am shaken by the familiarity of the emotions she evokes, and the accuracy with which she describes the conflicting reality of being a Haitian.
“Ayiti m pa renmen’w ankò, m pa renmen’w konsa…Ayiti ou vin santi, ou sal. Epi ou grangou. Ayiti, sou gran ri ak trip ou toupatou. Ayiti kay kraze, vant chire, je pete. Ayiti sou Dèlma, s’on la wont sanzave…Ayiti m pa renmen’w ankò!” Exclaiming: “Haiti, you stink, you are dirty, and you’re hungry. Haiti on main roads with guts everywhere. Haiti, I don’t love you anymore!” She echoes the frustration that comes after allowing one’s self to become overly optimistic about Haiti’s future, only to be hit with the harsh reality. She speaks of the mediocrity of Haitian institutions, spits accusations at corrupt shortsighted leaders, all leading to the conclusion “Ayiti M pa renmen w ankò!” I don’t love you anymore. But, like it happens to us all, something pulls her back. Something pushes her, pushes us to hope once again, no matter how delusional it may be. “mais l’arc enciel bleu et rouge, Haïti la jeunesse…Haiti espérance, Haïti délivrance…Ayiti lè ou leve ou kanpe. Ti peyi’m, mwen renmen’w.”
“But the blue and red rainbow. Haiti, the youth. Haiti, hope. Haiti deliverance. Haiti when you rise and stand, my country…I love you.”
Yes, all of her accomplishments and her extensive resume definitely do make her a Fanm Fò. But for me, it is the shivers that the sound of her voice sends down my spine, the conviction the sting of her words awakens in me that makes me want to honor her today and every day.
To read more on Toto Bissainthe’s life and career, read this essay about her on Kreyolicious.com
photo via kreyolicious.com
photo via jasminenarcisse.com