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01/14/2016
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This Weekend, globalFEST 2016 Hosts African & Other International Music Stars in New York City + Exclusive Interview with Haitian collective Lakou Mizik.

Written by Eden M.

globalFEST’s mission is cultural, social and political. It aims to bring down boundaries between countries and create cultural opportunities for individual artists and for governments, sponsors, scholars and critics to collaborate. Tours and cultural exchanges that result from globalFEST¹s showcases have helped to build an ever widening audience for international artists and, by extension an increase in international cooperation and collaboration.

This year, globalFEST 2016 boasts a line-up that includes African and Afro-diasporan musicians Fendika (Ethiopia), Lakou Mizik (Haiti), Somi (Rwanda/Uganda) and Colombian AfroChampetua band Tribu Baharú.
We were lucky enough to sit down with Lakou Mizik, a Haitian collective blending Troubadou, Vodou, Rara and Rap into a “deeply danceable bouyon of modern roots music”, for an exclusive one-on-one interview ahead of the festival and their New York debut.

Since the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the country has been tagged as “the poorest country in the Western hemisphere”, introducing vivid images of poverty and disaster to a nation in recovery. Lakou Mizik, a Port­-au-­Prince band, seeks to change all of that. They effortlessly weave traditional Haitian genres into an artistic dialogue on cultural salience in a changing world. Drums balance and shift between the accordion and banjo in Peze Kafe. It’s reimagines traditional folklore through young voices and instruments cemented in Haitian music history.

Using the voices of Steve Valcourt or Nadine Remy, and the smooth drumming of Vodou drummer Sanba Zao, Lakou Mizik is giving the global arena a run for its money.
How do you maintain the essence of folk and protest songs in your music, when Haitian music is so diverse?

Steve Valcourt: At the beginning Lakou Mizik was a project. Because of the newer generation coming up, we’re losing the essence of what we are or what we used to be. What we have to do is preserve it. What we did is we went back and sought for all of the culture and the traditional ways we dress and the way we use music, the traditional way Haiti was before, and then see the difference between what we had and what we have now. Three generations after us we’ll probably lose all of that and we’ll probably lose Haiti between all of the news on TV, that’s when we sat and said “OK: let’s bring the real Haiti. We know Haiti culturally, the sympathy the love we have, all of this that the news isn’t showing the rest of the world.”

E: It’s been said your groups is re-imagining traditional music in the modern lens, but I wanted to know is there a process? What are the challenges of re-imagining your culture in a way that is trying to redefine the status quo?

S: There is that love between us. I think if we really find a way to make them {news, etc} remember what it is. People that do our kind of songs, our type of music­­­ it’s so political that it lost its essence of voodoo or essence of the culture. We’re trying to put that so the new generation doesn’t lose their originality, and show the world what is really Haiti, because yes we really have a good side of us that people don’t really know about.

How do you maintain the essence of folk and protest songs in your music, when Haitian music is so diverse?

Steve Valcourt: At the beginning Lakou Mizik was a project. Because of the newer generation coming up, we’re losing the essence of what we are or what we used to be. What we have to do is preserve it. What we did is we went back and sought for all of the culture and the traditional ways we dress and the way we use music, the traditional way Haiti was before, and then see the difference between what we had and what we have now. Three generations after us we’ll probably lose all of that and we’ll probably lose Haiti between all of the news on TV, that’s when we sat and said “OK: let’s bring the real Haiti. We know Haiti culturally, the sympathy the love we have, all of this that the news isn’t showing the rest of the world.”

E: It’s been said your groups is re-imagining traditional music in the modern lens, but I wanted to know is there a process? What are the challenges of re-imagining your culture in a way that is trying to redefine the status quo?

S: There is that love between us. I think if we really find a way to make them {news, etc} remember what it is. People that do our kind of songs, our type of music­­­ it’s so political that it lost its essence of voodoo or essence of the culture. We’re trying to put that so the new generation doesn’t lose their originality, and show the world what is really Haiti, because yes we really have a good side of us that people don’t really know about.

E: It seems like a challenge to create a space for instruments that create distinct sounds. Is there a secret behind this?

S: Music is a language. Two people don’t talk at the same time. If you put them together and see what you like, there may be a lot of new things in our songs, but it’s harmony, meaning there’s a dialogue building between the instruments. The idea is that they all understand each other. It’s a harmony, a dialogue and a way of life too. I think the old nature is based on it.

E: Women played an essential role during the Haitian revolution and in reconstruction, so it’s only fitting that we have voices like Nadine Remy in this band. Does your band document the narratives of womanhood, or try to address that?

S: Around the world, women fight to do more but here in Haiti it’s even worse, because the job jobs and opportunities always go to men. Originally, it’s nature. You need to do the harmonies, it cannot be done without women. It’s really important to have that respect for their voice. There’s nothing that you can do if you don’t have their side. That balance is in life, music, nature and everything. In Lakou Mizik we really do that. I really think if we didn’t have Nadine in the band, we would lose something, a big thing, because that happiness..if you see us on stage, you see a family. I think women are very important.

“I think Nadine’s role is more tied in a certain way with her background coming from the church, than her being a woman in the band. She’s really an amazing strength by herself in the band. She’s grown a lot in it, but I think that’s not her main focus. She gets treated so well within the group. She’s coming to grips with Haitian culture and particularly voodou culture spirituality side of it, and taking pride in it as Haitian culture as opposed to something to be afraid of or interpreting it as something she doesn’t believe in. It has been the bigger narrative for Nadine within the group. I would be false to say it’s something that gets discussed heavily. Our consciousness lie in the pride for Haitian culture and whether or not that’s represented through Christianity and culture or voodoo, or folklore.” – Zack Niles, producer
E: The earthquake branded Haiti as being the poorest nation in the hemisphere. It really gave Haiti this specific image from the global community. It sounds like the band’s hope is to shift the public gaze to the country’s rich music history. I was wondering: do you believe the globalFEST performance will be the first step to change the conversation?

S: I think globalFEST is a real opportunity to really show what Haiti is about culturally, and that’s the goal of Lakou. Lakou isn’t one person, it’s the whole country, it’s Haiti. We bring Haiti to you, and you enjoy it. The song, the culture, the way we talk. That’s what we hope to show. I’m sure we’ll have a nice combination of culture.

“One of the strongest emotions we can illustrate is an empathy of seeing yourself within another and sort of …when someone makes you dance or you’re impressed with how they make you laugh, or you see the love a band has on stage for performing or for each other, that already changes the dynamic of how people see Haiti. It’s sad that it’s so one-dimensional, but it is.

The news we get from Haiti almost 100% of it is about deplorable conditions that aren’t ever going to change and I think it’s really easy to be dehumanized in a certain way. Even the imagery makes you feel sympathetic. For me, sympathy makes you feel bad for somebody but you’re apart from them, as opposed to seeing yourself in them. For me, I really get being in globalfest and seeing people around the world and seeing Haiti through the lens of the band. It’s a first big step for us.” — Zack Niles, producer

E: Well, thank you for speaking with me.

S: Thank you, the pleasure was all mine.