Out of his apartment in Bed-Stuy, Haitian DJ Hard Hittin' Harry has built up a global audience from the spins of a turntable that represent an intersection of cultural roots that touch everywhere from Port-au-Prince to Lagos.
In his signature gray pointed beard with tinted shades, the 49-year-old Port-au-Prince native calls out his listeners on a cold Tuesday evening from a chat room feature at the beginning of his two-hour live Internet radio show called Global Island Vybez on Dwildmusicradio.com.
“Although I play for everyone, I always include the music of my country during my DJ sets to celebrate my culture," Harry told Metro during a recent sitdown.
"Every chance I get, I do it and when I call out ‘my Haitians’ at a party, it’s my way of letting them know that it's OK to be proud of your culture," he said.
His DJ name, coined from a friend growing up, has spanned over 30 years — including a stint as an official DJ for the Fugees — as well as a mix of radio shows he currently hosts, including Haitian StarZ Radio on WBAI.
Moving to the beats coming from his home studio, and wearing a "Haitians Rock" T-shirt as a silver chain swings from his neck to each movement, he speaks of the influence his background has on his music — and the turmoil his country continues to still dig itself out of.
Harry’s then-84 year-old aunt was buried under all the rubble from Haiti’s deadly 7.0-magnitude earthquake six years ago.
Missing for three days, a neighbor was able to find her on the streets and connect her with her relatives in the U.S. Traveling to Haiti every year to celebrate her birthday, his aunt would give out toys and gifts at a school where a cousin of Harry’s works. In the aftermath of the earthquake, it magnified to those outside Haiti how far deep the country was already in before the disaster.
But it’s the resilience within its people that stands out, and the roots that burn through Harry’s work ethic are the collective sounds of his people as well as the global sounds of the world — coming together in positive stories and messages.
Those stories were told last month at The New School, at a cultural event called "Lakay se Lakay."
Haitians from Brooklyn to Canada and New Orleans to Port-au-Prince gathered as well as Dominicans and New Yorkers for the event, whose name translates to “home is home” in Haitian Creole.
Traditional Haitian drums with modern beats of electric turntables from Harry and other artists echoed with dance rhythms throughout the room.
“In this age of rapidly changing demographics in New York, often with disregard to communities who have a long history of displacement and immigration, second generation descendants can find solace and empowerment within their cultural identity through the arts, technology, and service,” Lakay se Lakay organizer Sabine Blaizin told Metro.
Harry, who was a panelist that day, came together with other artists and musicians in an open conversation about how they could represent Haiti within their artistic spheres.
“The message that I wanted to convey to everyone that attended was that of Haiti's pride and culture, as well as a mix of various forms of Haitian traditional music,” Harry said.
A playlist consisting of Haitian Kompas, Zouk, RaRa and Vodou — spiritual vibe incorporating African drums and Creole chanting — played in between segments along with house music, blending-up tempo dance rhythms with Creole language.
The day also included a drum workshop and a dance performance from Canada’s Mapou Ginen Dance Troupe, which incorporated dance moves from Haiti, while performers and onlookers brought their personal stories into a collective one.
“Our motto is "lunion fait la force" which means "united we're strong" or "united we are a force," said Haitian-born artist Val Jeanty.
A panelist and performer at Lakay se Lakay, Jeanty said, “I'm just really just creating and projecting a message that's beyond me, a message from the ancestors, a message of the truth about Vodou and the beauty of the Haitian culture.”