The Ladies of Symbi Roots Take Rara Into a New Direction

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Woy Magazine had the pleasure of speaking with the ladies of Symbi Roots, a group of women who are taking on Rara with a new artistic approach.

We are not devil worshippers, or trying to be men…We simply want to give rara music a more artistic approach,  and show that equality among men and women can also exist in these traditional cultural spaces.

When was the group Symbi Roots founded? How did all of you meet?

Symbi Roots was founded in 2005. The artists of Symbi Roots answered to a call for performers that the administration releases almost every year. Each member signed up, filled out an application form and completed various requirements to become part of the group. So, all of us come from different backgrounds. Most of the artists that were part of the Carnival performance this year have been part of the group for 6 years.

Did you grow up in the rara culture? Where did you learn to play the instruments?

None of the ladies of Symbi Roots grew up in a culture of rara. But as we all know, even when Haitians grow up in a deeply religious family, the rara is in our blood. All of the us were trained in how to dance, play percussion, theater, and how to appreciate the rara genre once we joined the group. This happened via many different workshops that the owner of the group put in place. Anyone, no matter who you are, can become an artist in Symbi Roots. That is  the social and educational aspect of the group. Many young women join Symbi Roots with only their willingness to learn, and ultimately become musicians and artists. The training is free and all the artists are compensated for participating in Symbi Roots performances.

Who is Symbi Roots’ role model in the rara genre?

We don’t have a role model in the rara genre because what we do is very original. As the first rara group made up exclusively of female musicians, we have encouraged other female musicians to follow our lead. We are the first group to go beyond traditional costumes and choreography, we have innovated and added originality to the visual aspect of rara. We are also the first rara group to really incorporate modern choreography, theater, and fashion with our music. Symbi Roots is essentially “street art” that has a lot of respect for other rara groups, old and new. Symbi Roots gets inspiration from all rara groups, because the work that we do is based on research and innovation.

Who came up with the concept for your look in this year’s Carnival? What did you intend to portray with your costumes?

It was Dieuvela Etienne, the founder and director, and singer of the group who created the concept and our costumes for the 2016 Carnival. She is the one who signs off on all the creative aspects of the group. The concept for our Carnival look and performance this year came from a show we are developing called “Sol-Mi-Tole or Bri lari a”. It is a street art performance, which combines many parts of the Haitian culture. Included are: sculpting, metal scrap art, aluminum (for the costumes), portraying exciting everyday street spectacles (which is where choreography comes from), and typically heard neighborhood sounds (for the sounds we imitate with our instruments).

Tell us about what it is like to be an all female Rara group. How does that affect your work?

Symbi Roots was originally named “Rara Fanm” (Rara of women). We took on the name Symbi Roots in 2014. Rara Fanm (Symbi Roots) was, from the beginning, a revolution in Haitian culture. Nothing like this had ever been seen before in Port-au-Prince. We faced a lot of challenges when we first started. We faced sexism; people claimed we were trying to be men because “only men play rara.” We faced religious persecution; people claimed that we were devil worshippers because of the traditional instruments we use. We experienced social prejudice; people assumed we came from the provinces, and were uneducated because we take part in popular culture. We are not devil worshippers, or trying to be men, and many of us are college educated. We simply want to give rara music a more artistic approach,  and show that equality among men and women can also exist in these traditional cultural spaces.

Like Symbi Roots on Facebook

Photos via: PleziKanaval 

Feature Photo: Dieuvela Etienne
Team Woy

Team Woy

Haiti through our voices. Ayiti nan vwa pa nou.

1 Comment
  1. These ladies are so well organized and so respectful… I had the opportunity to have them perform for our first Gala des Femmes en Flammes in 2014 and they were outstanding. I am very proud of Dieuvela Etienne, the leader of Symbie Roots (formerly Rara Fanm) and all the ladies who have honored me with a private performance. They are the models of our young Haitian women who have been taught that they are somewhat inferior to others or that they can’t perform at the level of others. Thank you for this well-written article. Congratulations to Symbie Roots….

    Marie Deltor
    Bellerose Manor, New York

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