In 1973 a group of young artists from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, formed La Troupe Makandal, and named it after a renowned eighteenth-century revolutionary and mystic. They created a repertory that drew from Haiti’s revolutionary legacy, and from oral tradition around the figure of their namesake. The company left Haiti in 1981 and regrouped in New York City, where it attracted new artists, both Haitians and friends of Haiti who are inspired by the company’s dedication to black history and culture. La Troupe Makandal incorporated in the State of New York in 1984 and won its not-for-profit status a year later. The company has distinguished itself for its theatrical representations of Vodou, a powerful but poorly understood form of Afro-Haitian spirituality. Under the direction of the late Master Drummer Frisner Augustin, an NEA Heritage Fellow (1999), the company developed performances and educational services that link Haitian history and culture, challenge ingrained stereotypes, and preserve and develop the stunning music and dance traditions of Haiti and the Haitian community of New York City. Since Mr. Augustin's passing in February 2012, the Troupe has expanded on its activities in research and documenation, much of it in his honor.
Makandal has produced performances for theaters and festivals, most notably, its annual Rising Sun, A Vodou Drama of Death and Rebirth, which follows sacred Afro-Haitian rites of fall and winter; Bwa Kayiman, a drama celebrating the 1791 uprisings that triggered Haiti’s remarkable revolution; The Color of All Shadows, a tribute to the company’s namesake; Haiti Drum and Dance, a series of workshops and performances highlighting more than two dozen traditional drum and dance styles; and The Drum and the Seed, a neo-folktale that dramatizes Haiti’s ecological dilemma. The company offered the Tanbou drumming workshops beginning in 1983. Makandal serves New York City public schools and libraries with workshops, lecture-demonstrations, and residencies, and it has participated in Carnegie Hall’s Global Encounters program for high school students. In the summer of 2007 Makandal appeared in the Tokyo Summer Festival. Currently the company is producing memorial projects around the life and legacy of Frisner Augustin, in particular, an annotated online archive.