The Kongo is beautiful, says a popular Haitian folksong set to the lively kongo rhythm, often danced at Kanaval. But this happy observation takes on a bit of mystery as the song continues: You don’t know me. You don’t know Kongo. When mia galleries invited us to create an exhibit for Haitian Heritage Month 2016 (May, of course) we borrowed the title of this song that celebrates the beauty of the Kongo — and the Congo region, from which so many Haitian and other African diasporic traditions came — while at the same time reminding visitors that there may well be more to these traditions — and the way they are constantly reinvented — than they may ever know.
If there is one person who does know Kongo, it’s master percussionist and long-time Carnival Arts collaborator Catelus “Ton Ton” Laguerre. The rest of us try our best to keep up when he teaches us the steady patter of the kata, or baby rhythm, and the slightly more complicated pattern of the segon, or second rhythm. Meanwhile, he dazzles us with his improvisations as he plays the lead rhythm, called maman. We can always tell by the look on his face when we mess up. Ton Ton was a featured performer at the Bel Kongo exhibit.