Highland Park • Pittsburgh, PA 15206
Haitian Music
Issa el Saieh
The Maestro
To many of us who are interested in Haitian art, Issa is a legendary figure. Visiting him in his emporium, Galerie Issa, on the Rue du Chile near the Grand Hotel Oloffson, is one of the memorable experiences one can have in Haiti.

Relax and sit in one of the well-worn chairs by the open windows that overlook Port-au-Prince, the bay and the mountains to the north. When he's not with a customer, Issa will sit there with you, telling silly jokes and recounting the stories of his life. He may show you the picture of himself in a club in Harlem with Charlie Parker and a girl singer in the 40's. If he can't find it, he will yell " Josie!" and his cook of 40 years will come and locate it. If a visitor comes in while you are there and Issa leaves to show them some art, you can wander in the gallery, a misnomer for this series of rooms that is a magical mystery tour of Haitian Art. Paintings cover every inch of wall space and are stacked haphazardly against any vertical surface that will support a pile. Art is leaning against the poles that hold up the once-elegant ceiling and against the old pegboard display fixtures that look like they came out of a depression-era department store. There are thousands and thousands of paintings that have been accumulating since the gallery opened in 1954.

Before he was an art dealer , Issa was a musician and band leader. The band played in Port-au-Prince from the early 1940's until the late 50"s. This collection of wonderful, infectious music was recorded in Havana in 1957, according to Bebo Valdes.
( The liner notes say, incorrectly , 1958.)

From the liner notes "...His band is the best evidence of that time showing that traditional Haitian music could be merged with the Cuban panache and the modern harmony particular to jazz without ever losing it's basic african and creole essence."

Issa was one of five "giants " of Haitian music to be honored at Lincoln Center on June 27, 1998.

Some of the biographical information in the notes is also incorrect; Issa was actually born on February 22, 1919 of Palestinian parents in Petit Goave, Haiti and became a Haitian citizen at age 21.

The tunes are great to listen to and even better for dancing!

Issa el Saieh et son Orchestre, El Maestro
CD $13.95 plus $4. domestic shipping.

*NB Sorry to say, we are sold out of the CD for the foreseeable future. Try the website of minirecords.com

Issa Passed away on February 2, 2005. For a photo and a remembrance, click here.


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