Change The World, Create Something!

When the Drum is Beating. [Photo courtesy of]

When the Drum is Beating, a documentary from director Whitney Dow, gives us a rousing overview of the history of Septentrional, Haiti’s oldest and most renowned band. Latin for “of the north,” the Orchestre Septentrional, also affectionately known as “Septen,” formed in 1948 in Cap-Haïtien, located in the northern region of Haiti. From the militaristic rule of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier beginning in the late 1950s to the present day disaster of the earthquake, Haiti has seen more than its share of devastation. But Septen’s popularity remains intact not only throughout Haiti, but all over the world.

Septen was founded by the late Maestro Ulrick Pierre Louis, who was a saxophonist and the band’s first Maestro. Maestro Louis was innovative for he sought to breathe new life into old Haitian songs rather than play foreign music like other bands. And he ultimately created Septen’s overall sound, which is driven by a pulsating rhythm section that comprises of drums, horns and guitars coupled with the vocals of Michel Tassy, who proclaims himself to be “the greatest singer in the world.” While the rhythm section sounds very similar to Afro-Cuban music, it is Tassy’s wonderful tenor vocals that make Septen’s sound quite distinctive.


The film opens with a local DJ at a Cap-Haïtien radio station explaining to listeners why Septen is "important to the Haitian people.” And we immediately get our answer as we cut to a live concert where thousands of Haitians come out to show their love for the band. “When Septen plays I’m rich, when they stop I’m poor,” explains one man while another woman is furious because she doesn’t have the money to get into the concert: “I’m suffering, my Orchestra is playing and I can’t get in.” From the concert footage alone, it’s evident that the Orchestre Septentrional means a great deal to the Haitian people.

Nikol Levy, Septen’s musical director, explains how Haitian music was often a “weapon against the adversity” based on his own experiences as a boy in Haiti during the 1950s. At the behest of “Papa Doc” Duvalier, Levy along with his schoolmates had to witness the execution of two men. After both men were shot to death, Papa Doc ordered his soldiers to leave one of the bodies out in an open street to serve as a warning to those who questioned his authority. Maestro Louis recalled a similar story when his friend and band mate Tony was also killed by Papa Doc’s soldiers at a local nightclub. Not long after that incident, Maestro Louis composed the song “Duvalier for Life,” perhaps more for his own protection. “Music is more than culture, it’s a way of living,” explains Levy. It is an emotional carrier than can express sorrow, happiness and even thoughts that serve the greater good of others regardless if they challenge your own personal beliefs—a tradition, he adds, that dates back to slavery. Some ten years ago, Levy returned to his native Haiti and was later offered the role as the seminal band’s director. Despite the problems that continue to plague Haiti, Levy does not regret his decision for he expresses how much he missed his country.

Dow’s When the Drum is Beating brilliantly weaves together the story of Septen’s journey and longevity as the Haitian people’s band against the backdrop of chaos and change. Nancy Kennedy, Federico Rosenzvit and Hemal Trivedi all do a wonderful job with the editing in the film for the footage of “old Haiti,” where streets are paved and the houses are pristine, seem like a faded memory against images of today’s Haiti for Cap-Haïtien alone is representative of the country’s poverty and overpopulation. While the film sheds light on Haiti’s hurdles—from defeating Napoleon’s troops and proclaiming their independence in 1804 to surviving the reign of terror under self-proclaimed “Presidents-for-life” like Papa Doc—it also serves as a testament to the country’s indomitable spirit. When the Drum is Beating essentially tells us that if we want to learn about the history and beauty of Haiti, just listen to the music of the Orchestre Septentrional.

When the Drum is Beating was a part of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. And beginning June 21st, you can also catch it at this year’s SilverDocs Documentary Festival in Maryland. To learn more about this amazing film and when it will be showing near you, please visit


Views: 141


You need to be a member of SOCIETY HAE to add comments!



  Facebook Twitter Blog RSS YouTube


Your donation enables us to continue to provide a platform for emerging artists as well as offer free arts & culture programming for the greater community at large.


Team SHAE made the The Root's 2012 "Black Bloggers You Should Know" list.


Check out the AFRIKA21 Mixtape vol4 - The SXSW Edition & Your Soundtrack To The New African Renaissance





Latest Activity

Urban Fashion Network posted a blog post

Where African Fashions Meet the Stylish Traveler

SHANGANI FASHIONSSHAGANI 2017 Fall CollectionShangani Fashion’s debut presentation during New York Fashion Week conveys contemporary cuts that are accented with vintage accessories. Shangani Fashion Designs are a juxtaposition of culture and style. Shangani is an African tribe who dwelled near the Shangani River in Zimbabwe, Africa. The tribe was named after its founder; and the name “Shoshangani” means traveler. Shangani…See More
Apr 10
Syed Ali posted events
Apr 4
Urban Fashion Network posted a blog post

All that is Glitz and Glamour for the Girls

Styles of Imagination Styles of 2017 Fall CollectionAccording to Fashion Designer Diane Linston, fashions should always be high-key, up beat and fashionably fun. Sequins fashions is still a hot trend for the 2017 fall season and Linston has her finger on the pulse of glitz and glamour with style creations that transcend from business casual to red carpet glamour. If you still think that sequins are only good for…See More
Mar 16
British Urban Film Festival posted a blog post

Subscribe NOW to our BUFF YouTube channel!

Diversity is in the business of making news every single day. And so are we. Starting this month – we’re getting social with the launch of our #BigBUFFGoal - 100,000 YouTube subscribers. Why 100,000? Well why not?   As part of our #BigBUFFGoal we’re asking everybody in our networks to subscribe to our YouTube channel. And we mean everybody. Writers, Producers, Directors, Companies, Actors, Actresses, Agents, Patrons and other…See More
Feb 18
British Urban Film Festival posted a video

Subscribe NOW to our BUFF YouTube Channel! If it's diversity that you're after, there's only 1 destination. The BUFF YouTube Channel is home to all of our archiv...
Feb 12
Syed Ali posted events
Dec 16, 2016
British Urban Film Festival posted a video

BUFF Awards 2016: REPLAY (first broadcast on Showcase TV, 21/11/2016) Femi Oyeniran and Larushka Ivan-Zadeh present highlights coverage of the 2016 British Urban Film Festival awards ceremony from Lo...
Nov 30, 2016
Urban Fashion Network posted a blog post

Liberians Position To Join The Global Fashion System

With the accession of the Republic of Liberia's membership to the World Trade Organization there has been considerable dialogue amongst Liberian nationals in the United States about the economic future of their West African nation. Kimma Wreh in Times Square, NYThis past July, during the Liberian Independence Day celebrations in Washington, DC the Liberian Ambassador to the United States reminded his constituents that Liberian nationals abroad, particularly in the United States could do more by…See More
Nov 12, 2016

Centered on fashion, music, art and culture, Society HAE serves as a point of convergence for creative minds across the globe.

© 2017   Created by Ngozi Odita.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service