WHO IS GASTON “BONGA” JEAN BAPTISTE?
Traditional Haitian Music & Drumming
Multi-Instrumentalist and Artist
Gaston Jean-Baptiste, known as “Bonga,” is a highly-accomplished and well-traveled drummer and multi-instrumentalist from Haiti whose creativity expanded into the visual arts. At a young age, Bonga became fascinated with painting from the famous Haitian painter, Andre Pierre, who lived nearby. Bonga soon picked up the brush after sitting and watching Pierre paint in his backyard. Bonga began to express on canvas the everyday life he saw around him. His works are dazzling, color-saturated vignettes that portray the mystery and festivity of his home in Haiti. Each piece is highly personal, deeply felt, and ultimately celebrates his vodou roots.
Bonga grew up in the town of Croix des Mission, a place known for its rich cultural history, and began playing drums at the age of 7 in his father’s peristil, or temple. The temple is featured in Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti by the American dancer and 1940’s artist Maya Deren. The book and film she made became one of the only pure documentations of Vodou life, and it shows members of Bonga’s family participating in ceremonies in the very place where he would later come of age.
As a drummer, Bonga was a founding member in the popular bands Foula and Boukman Expereyans. He has been featured prominently with artists Grace Jones, The Rolling Stones, and Dan Zanes (among others); and currently leads his own band, The Vodou Drums of Haiti. He is also an accomplished educator, with a broad array of experience teaching in schools and hosting workshops to groups of all ages and skill levels.
“The drum was my passport to the world”, says Bonga, “and through painting, I can express my understanding of it”. He knows that he will always be firmly connected to his roots and travels home to Haiti whenever it is possible.