Musicians come to the aid of Haiti at Ocean Beach benefit concert
The ‘San Diego for Haiti’ event raises more than $5,000 to help the country fight a cholera outbreak.
It was Oct. 8 and Kofi Andoh was performing as an accompanying percussionist for local blues-rock outfit Band of Gringos, the headlining act for Ocean Beach Oktoberfest. After the set, Andoh returned home late and turned on the news to decompress.
A BBC report came on, detailing a cholera outbreak that was developing in Haiti. Andoh sat up in his seat anxiously.
Cholera is a bacterial disease usually spread through contaminated water. It causes severe diarrhea and dehydration, and if left untreated, it can be fatal.
Get Point Loma-OB Monthly in your inbox every month
News and features about Point Loma and Ocean Beach every month for free
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Point Loma-OB Monthly.
“The thing that captured me, what made me sad, was the lack of clean water, that mothers are having to quench their babies’ thirst by taking dirty water and dropping chlorine in it,” recalled Andoh, an immigrant from Ghana. “I listened to this and said, ‘This is not acceptable.’”
Despite the late hour, Andoh texted the members of Band of Gringos. He had an idea: organize a benefit concert and raise money to help the struggling people in Haiti.
The band members all texted him back immediately, eager to help.
Andoh hoped to raise enough money to help purchase a water purification system, which costs roughly $10,000.
“I am the product of the kindness of strangers,” Andoh said. “It was strangers that took care of me along the way; it was a stranger country, the United States, that gave me the opportunity to thrive and get multiple degrees. I used to go to The Salvation Army for my clothing.
“When I see someone in need, I try to ask what’s going on and help them. It also comes from my nature as an African. Africans are very community-focused people. It’s ingrained in me. If you have a problem, I have a problem.”
With the help of local trombonist Wesley Etienne, a child of Haitian immigrants, Andoh organized the benefit concert for Dec. 18 at The Holding Co. in Ocean Beach. The event, named “San Diego for Haiti,” raised more than $5,000 through ticket and T-shirt sales and a GoFundMe campaign, according to a video Andoh posted on social media.
Listed on the bill were Band of Gringos, Andoh’s deep-roots reggae outfit Les Africains and electric-blues band Gypsy Sally. The night was extended with surprise sets by Etienne’s band Boostive and Half Hour Late, as well as an ensemble performance of “We Are the World” as the evening’s encore.
“It’s all about bringing communities together through the arts to support less-fortunate people,” Etienne said. “I was shocked with the overall outcome of the event. The turnout was exceptional, especially for a Sunday.”
Andoh chose Partners in Health as the beneficiary of the funds raised. The international nonprofit is one of the largest non-government health-care providers in Haiti.
“It doesn’t matter how much we raise,” Andoh said. “What matters is we put a light on the issue and got more people involved.”
A large-scale cholera outbreak struck Haiti months after a devastating earthquake in January 2010. But after nearly a decade of combating the disease, Haiti seemed on the way to eliminating it.
In fact, in February 2022, Haiti observed a third consecutive year with no reported cases of cholera.
However, seven months before that, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated, sparking civil unrest that enabled gangs to take hold in the region. That impacted access to clean water, eventually leading to a resurgence of cholera.
According to the World Health Organization, 13,672 suspected cases of cholera were reported by the Haiti Ministry of Health and Population between October and December 2022, with 86 percent of the cases resulting in hospitalization. The situation is further complicated by gang activity that disrupts access to fuel that medical centers need to operate normally.
“It doesn’t matter how much we raise. What matters is we put a light on the issue and got more people involved.”
— Kofi Andoh
Andoh said he will continue the GoFundMe campaign for Haiti through the holidays to try to raise additional funds.
“This [benefit] event started a chain reaction of positivity across the world,” Etienne said. “It’s only a matter of time before we start seeing other states come together more through the arts to support the people of Haiti in their trying times.”
Cholera timeline in Haiti
A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hits the island, killing more than 200,000 people, decimating critical infrastructure and causing nearly $8 billion in damage.
Cholera is inadvertently spread in Haiti by contamination from United Nations peacekeepers, beginning an epidemic that totals 800,000 cases and nearly 10,000 deaths.
The last confirmed case of cholera is reported. The disease is considered near eradication in February 2022.
Haitian President Jovenel Moise is assassinated. Colombian mercenaries are alleged to be responsible. The nation plunges into civil unrest.
Cholera cases begin to re-emerge, attributed to a lack of access to clean water and to fuel for medical centers.