She’s now occasionally an old lady singer and a powerful Vodou priestess, or a manbo. She now mostly sits and only sometimes comments instead of being the cultural doer that she once was. She tells her memories. Before it, she was a socially and politically conscious young woman in bright colors on a vinyl cover. She sang Vodou culture songs that some in Haiti, who preferred to mimic European culture, shunned. She also sang songs about the tribulations of the country’s poor. She was a singer seen on television and heard on the radio who time and time again fed Haitian life with her a love of selfhood. As a token of their gratitude, Haitians have declared her a legend.
Carole Demesmin was at first a middle class Haitian girl from Leogane who had moved to the United States who knew very little if nothing at all about Vodou. Leogane is a city known for its Rara bands; pre-columbian culture marching bands heavily steeped in Vodou that still exist today. Regardless, she was not aware of it. She learned of Vodou in the United States, as many Haitians do. Inspired, she went on to release the majestic album Carole Maroule in 1979.
She moved back to Haiti in the early 1980’s and became one of the great singers of her people’s struggle, a people who would overthrow a dictator in 1986, a people who would be massacred by its own army in the early 1990’s and who would know a bittersweet version of democracy that would send it into a disastrous tailspin that still affects Haiti today. As things turned sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst, she became a priestess of Vodou religion and released the albums Min Rara, Lawouze, and Kongayiti-Afrika, all to signify that we Haitians are Africans in the New World who want respect.
Her commitment to Vodou was as correct as it is beautifully expressed. No human being should be obliged to believe in a specific God or in one God. We human beings have not been successful at upholding that as a human right. Christian institutions, descendants of Roman Christianity and always close to political and social power, has done a lot of damage to one’s ability to practice another religion with dignity. It forced the polytheist slaves of the Western Hemisphere into an odd form of secrecy; they could not practice their faith in public and so their descendants have taken on similar postures. Her commitment did wonders for Haitian culture and for Haitian song. It imposed itself in public, gladly, without remorse.