by Wanda Sabir
I first saw Lakou Mizik at Dance Place in Washington, D.C., in 2016. The band was on tour with its first release, in Kreyol “Wa di yo, nou la toujou” – “You tell them, we’re still here!” I was there for a friend’s birthday party. It was her last and I thought perhaps she might want to go out dancing that evening.
She couldn’t but I bought her a CD and as I told her about the performance that drew the audience onto the stage, we listened and danced together. The musicians were in the Dance Place lobby and began playing traditional Rara horns, accordion, digeridoo, congas and singing as they led us into the auditorium where more musicians awaited us – it was engaging and fun.
You can imagine my delight hearing about the band’s latest project: a collaboration between Lakou Mizik and New Orleans musicians and their gig New Year’s Eve with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at The Fillmore. Okay, pinch me awake, right? HaitiaNola (Cumbancha 2019) is like a Diaspora homecoming: Cousins who haven’t seen each other are now reunited.
In a conversation with Steeve Valcourt, one of the band founders, he speaks of the translation across waters. Kreyol meets Creole. The ancestors probably had this reunion on simmer for a while waiting for the right moment that came once Lakou Mizik was invited to perform at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2017. Listen to the interview on Wanda’s Picks Radio, Dec. 25, 8 a.m. PT: http://tobtr.com/11626635.
Steeve says, “We have nearly lost everything [in the Jan. 12, 2010, quake] – but we’ll never lose our culture.” The same could be said about New Orleans and the Gulf Coast after Katrina: So many artists left the Crescent City unable to return for years. However, wherever Africans landed, a little Crescent City developed. Look at the Oakland’s Brass Boppers.
African identity is connective tissue across time and place. It is the life force articulated. Distance, dislocation or lost memories … wandering tongues and misplaced alliances cannot separate us from our Blackness or African heritage. The ancestors live in the songs we hum in our dreams, not new, just rediscovered.
It was the same when Lakou returned to Haiti to lay tracks for what would become HaitiaNola, the featured artists a crème de la crème of NOLA (short for New Orleans, Louisiana) royalty, beginning with The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, whom the Lakou Mizik opens for on Tuesday, Dec. 31, at The Fillmore in San Francisco, 1805 Geary Blvd. at Fillmore Street. Doors open at 8 p.m.; the show starts at 9 p.m. For tickets, call 800-745-3000 or visit https://thefillmore.com/event/preservation-hall-jazz-band-with-lakou-mizik/.
Other collaborators who recorded in NOLA and Jacmel studios are pianists Jon Cleary, Cyril Neville, Trombone Shorty, Anders Osborn, King James and Tarriona “Tank” Ball. The connection between Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Lakou Mizik speaks to a primacy that is jazz culture – spiritual improvisational at its core.
Regine Chassagne, “Arcade Fire” album producer along with Eric Heigle and his band Lost Bayou Ramblers, is the daughter of Haitian immigrants. She says Haiti is in the food, the music, the colors, the movement, the spirit of a city. She and Win Butler co-founded Krewe du Kanaval with Ben Jaffe, director of PHJB, who concurs: “There would be no New Orleans music without Haiti. It has been one of the most important influences going back 200 years.”
Just back from the Slave Rebellion Reenactment, Nov. 8-9, of the largest insurrection in US history, the German Coast Uprising Jan. 8-12, 1811, just seven years after the successful revolt in Haiti which created the first free African republic in the Western Hemisphere, Jan. 1, 1804.
These Louisiana African ancestors were inspired by the idea of a free nation state. Slavery was never a part of the majority culture here in the West. Our ancestors resisted until their last breath despite terrorism and other egregious tactics like placing the heads of 100 African leaders on stakes along the road we walked in November.
New Year’s is a time of affirmation for the African Diaspora. The 500 Africans marching in rain and mud, on foot and on horseback carrying a few rifles, most armed with farming implements that January 300 years ago, shouted: “On to New Orleans! Freedom or Death!” And those of us marching in the cold along the River Road where plantations have been replaced by threatening toxic chemical “plantations,” chanted the same as we marched into New Orleans that Saturday.
Our ancestors didn’t get there, but we did. What’s next?
Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com throughout the month for updates to Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays and Fridays at 8 a.m., can be heard by phone at 347-237-4610 and are archived at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.
Lakou Mizik is a multigenerational collective of Haitian musicians formed in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake. The group includes elder legends and rising young talents, united in a mission to honor the healing spirit of their culture and communicate a message of pride, strength and hope to their countrymen and the world.
Music is at the core of Haiti’s sense of identity, and musicians have always played an important role in society, both in documenting the country’s history and helping to shape its path forward. Today, a young generation of artists is keeping this tradition alive, narrating the world they live in through music that is made in their neighborhoods, villages and post-earthquake camps.
Lakou Mizik brings together these musical generations in celebration of the cultural continuum while using Haiti’s deep well of creative strength to shine a positive light on this tragically misrepresented country.
Note: Lakou Mizik and the New Year’s Eve event are featured in the SF Chronicle. – ed.