Kendall Man Hopes to Raise HIV Awareness With Album of Lost Footage From His Late Uncle
courtesy of Yanatha Desouvre
On a stage in Staten Island almost 30 years ago, a host grabbed the mike and announced the next performer, a Haitian classical guitarist.
"One of the world's finest guitarists, Daniel Coulanges," he said. "Please welcome Mr. Coulanges."
Wearing a charcoal-gray suit and a black bow tie, Coulanges took a seat on a black piano bench against a backdrop of verdant treetops. Without further ado, he moved his fingers up and down the neck of his guitar, strumming out the chords of "Killing Me Softly."
Coulanges died of AIDS shortly after the performance, in 1989. His godson and nephew Yanatha Desouvre says he wept when he saw footage of the Staten Island performance for the first time earlier this year. Now, Desouvre, a Kendall resident who works in IT at the University of Miami, is raising money to have the audio remastered and released to honor his uncle's legacy and encourage people to get tested for HIV.
Desouvre says another uncle sent him the DVD of Coulanges' performance this past April. He was instantly flooded with childhood memories of growing up in Brooklyn and enjoying visits from Uncle Daniel.
"I have a wife and three kids at home, so it's normally really loud. But when I popped in the video, it got quiet," he says. "I saw my godfather alive, and with every guitar string that he plucked, I started crying and crying and crying. He talked to me through the music, and I couldn't hold it in. I was like, I gotta do something with this."
Desouvre remembers spending Sunday afternoons with his uncle watching kung fu movies and soccer games in Spanish, because the commentary was more exciting that way. As a boy, he remembers his uncle cutting his hair in the living room and listening raptly as his uncle played guitar.
"The house was full of music," Desouvre says. "Music is in my DNA."
Photo courtesy of Yanatha Desouvre
Desouvre was only 11 years old when he learned that his Uncle Daniel had died. It was so sudden and his uncle so young — just 28 — that nothing about his death made sense. It wasn't until two years later when Desouvre found a piece of paper indicating his godfather had HIV/AIDS that his questions were answered.
"We were told that he was sick and he died," Desouvre says. "It was the late '80s, and no one really talked about it. It was taboo."
Desouvre's mission is twofold: He hopes to encourage people to know their status but also to explore their passions and share their talents.
"Miami, according to the statistics, in 2014 was number one for new cases of HIV and AIDS, so I want to encourage people to know your status and be able to live your life to the fullest. If you're negative, that's great, and if you're positive, there's medicine that can help you live a fulfilled life," he says. "My uncle didn't get a chance to live a full life, and that's why I'm doing this. I want the music to be out in the world and encourage others to live life."