Pa Gen Dlo

PA  GEN DLO is a short video created by Kevin Mason, PhD candidate in UBC’s School of Music, after spending five weeks in Haiti in the summer of 2013, working alongside traditional musicians on a new video archive for the National Bureau of Ethnology in Port-au-Prince. This video received an Honourable Mention by the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, as part of a Students-Based Arts Competition on the theme of water. The work was showcased during an international conference, which brought together representatives from University-Based Institutes for Advanced Study across the globe.

The neighborhood of Carrefour-Feuilles in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is known for its location behind the cemetery. Once it was known for its reservoir that provided clean water to homes there; now only the cemetery is still in use. Pa Gen Dlo uses this neighborhood, as well as the sacred site of SoDo, to observe how Haitians view water as the karfou—or crossroads—between reality and the divine. By utilizing scenes of both scarcity and abundance, the video depicts the deep spiritual connection Haitians have with water. The piece captures how instances of insecurity inform daily discourses of lament, which manifest in the phrase “pa gen dlo”: meaning “there’s no water”.

These discourses shift blame into realms outside an individual’s control, where issues can only be remedied with divine intervention. The phrase cues not only the absence of water, but also the other effects of its inaccessibility. Many of the musicians call Carrefour-Feuilles home, which led Mason to avoid depictions of their dry reservoir, instead focusing on a presentation in which water insecurity is a daily reality for them. Combining techniques of video archiving and radio broadcasting, Pa Gen Dlo observes the contemporary crossroads of security and spirituality in Haiti in which water metaphors play a major role.