Lunise and Richard Morse (far left) leading RAM at the North Beach Bandshell, Miami Beach Saturday. Photo credit © Luis Olazábal, courtesy The Rhythm Foundation
It’s hard to tell what the spirits are doing any given night, but it´s a good bet that a few of them were dancing with RAM at the North Beach Bandshell in Miami Beach, Saturday. As earthly pleasures go, this would’ve been one hard to pass up.
Led by singer and dancer Lunise Morse and founder, singer, and emcee Richard Morse, the 11-piece Haitian roots music band RAM offered an intense and joyful performance that had the mostly Haitian expat audience up, dancing and singing all evening.
Founded in 1990 by Morse, RAM once blended elements of rock and funk with Haitian traditional and Vodou ritual music and instruments and became a leading band of the mizik rasin (roots music) movement. That was then. Over time, the group has de-emphasized the rock elements in favor of Haitian musical tradition. (Guitarist William Morse, Lunise and Richard’s son, teased a few heavy rock riffs, but never longer than a few bars) In fact, Saturday, the rich, deep-rooted Africanness of the music offered moments that hinted at modern African styles as disparate as Congolese soukous or Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat. Also, a vocal ensemble piece suggested, at least to a non-Haitian listener, a sort of proto-gospel song.
Anchored by a battery of three single-head, conga-like drums and a standard rock drum kit, electric bass and guitar; and featuring three backing vocalists who also played light percussion, a scrapper, and, occasionally, the vaksen, the conical metal horns of the rara carnival tradition, RAM was, basically, a drums and vocals ensemble.
Most of the pieces were in triple meter, and RAM’s drummers — a phenomenal engine room that worked with relentless intensity, exact but swinging — gave the music a muscular, textured forward drive. Meanwhile, lead singer Lunise danced and set up call-and-responses with the backing choir while seemingly floating over the music.
The show was sung and conducted in Kreyol, but the power and beauty of the music needed no translation.