By day, Rob Rigolfi sets the vibes at Echo Coffee in Scottsdale. By night, the barista pores over a keyboard and drum machine to make beats. They’re amiable and idiosyncratic in the style of Mac DeMarco, often swirled into samples from classic records à la J Dilla. Rigolfi doesn’t always work alone. Among his most frequent collaborators is Rony Pierre, a 30-year-old native Haitian gospel singer.
Rigolfi and Pierre are two charismatic creatives who come from different worlds. Their fateful meeting has had powerful consequences. It has yielded interesting artistic work and tangible benefit to disadvantaged children born into poverty. Rigolfi goes by Bob Rabbit, selling his beats, merch, and fully fleshed-out tunes on his website, with every dollar generated going to the nonprofit Bob Rabbit Project.
Rigolfi says that the vision for his project crystallized during a pivotal 48 hours in 2017 during his third philanthropic trip to Haiti. During an inspired recording session in Léogâne, Pierre and his friends were freestyling over a Bob Rabbit beat when they landed on a hook they say has remained their mantra ever since.
“If we dream it, we can do it, we’re gonna do it, we’re gonna make it,” they sang.
The following day, Pierre, who Rigolfi calls his “Haitian brother,” took him to the World Harvest Orphanage in Léogâne, where Pierre was raised. During their visit, Pierre and the facility’s owners confessed to Rigolfi, who was 23 years old at the time, that their longtime primary donor was near death and the orphanage’s future was in jeopardy.
While he got going, Rigolfi began sending what he could, $35 a week, to Léogâne to keep the orphanage afloat.
Later that year, Rigolfi released Haiti, Pt. 1, a record featuring Pierre and built from field and studio recordings from Rigolfi’s trip. To Rigolfi, Pierre is an inspiration, a “true servant of the Lord,” and an “incredible musician.” To Pierre, a gospel singer by trade, Rigolfi is a beacon of hope for his community and a portal into a new world of electronic music.
“He put me in that universe of his style,” Pierre says. “I didn’t know I had those things inside of me.”
In fall 2018, Rigolfi raised $5,000 via Kickstarter and left for Haiti to embark on his most ambitious charitable art project to date. He would transform an abandoned cinderblock structure in Léogâne into the Haitian Breeze Cafe, a bar/restaurant dreamed up by Pierre. Rigolfi recruited three friends to help execute and document the process. When they were done, they had an “80 percent complete” cafe, a seven-song EP, and a 50-minute documentary. Pierre and his community had a place to host birthday parties and concerts, watch soccer games, and find respite from the brutal Haitian sun.
“I thank God every day that I met Robby, not only for me but for my community,” Pierre says.
Since then, things have gone south. Political and economic upheaval have made the country inhospitable to foreign visitors. To make matters worse, Pierre was kidnapped and violently beaten in March of this year. He managed to escape, but not before his captors deduced the location of the cafe, which they robbed weeks later.
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Back in Tempe, Rigolfi fought the urge to fold in the face of increasing obstacles. But unlike most 20-something musician/baristas, he has the well-being of 30 Haitian children depending on his resilience.
Last month, Rigolfi released a new record, ...And Then There Was Bump Day…, a collection of the best of his regular weekly tracks. He has released a song and an accompanying video for the past 116 Wednesdays. It’s a project in persistence.
Bob Rabbit is scheduled to perform on Friday, October 18, at Abe Zucca Gallery. There is no cover. Proceeds go to World Harvest Orphanage.