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2022 Savannah Music Festival: Lakou Mizik and Leyla McCalla share Haitian roots music – Savannah Morning News

Lakou Mizik are a multi-generational Haitian collective that combine traditional Haitian styles like vodou, Rara, and compro with world music adventurousness. The band formed in the wake of the devastating earthquake of 2010 that killed more than 200,000 people.
Co-founder Steeve Valcourt and his bandmate Jonas Attis regularly visited camps of Haitians left homeless by the disaster to try to lift their spirits with music.
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“We didn’t know how to please those people because when you see them they are all low joy, they feel like it’s the end of the world, like it was the end of times for some people,” recalled Valcourt. “Then we started to bring a guitar and a conga and started to perform in those camps. The problem was there were people that love compa music, there are people that love reggae, church music, traditional, so we didn’t know what kind of music to play. There’s the young generation and the old generation, it’s a mix of everything when you go to the camps. We started to bring a new style. We mixed everything together, so the vodou style, dancehall, reggae, and it seems like everybody likes it.”
One day, manager Zach Niles walked into Valcourt’s studio looking for his famous father, Haitian music legend Boulo Valcourt, and met Valcourt and Attis as they were recording another band. Niles wanted to share old Haitian music with the rest of the world and recruited Valcourt to help put a band together to record a song. Niles asked Valcourt who his dream team of musicians would be and Valcourt set to inviting all of his favorite Haitian artists to collaborate on a song, including master drummer and legend of racine (roots) music Sanba Zao.
What was supposed to be a one-time gig to record one song, “Peze Kafe,” became a supergroup of sorts that tours the globe entertaining audiences with joyful Haitian rhythms and spirited singing.
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Lakou Mizik’s adventurous approach to music has led them to find new ways to combine other styles of music with Haitian roots music. For their second album, Haitanola, the band visited New Orleans to work with famous artists like Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Jon Cleary, Cyrill Neville, King James, and Régine Chassagne and Win Butler of Arcade Fire. Valcourt had been inspired by the historical connections between New Orleans and Haiti, and felt immediately at home amongst the musicians he saw playing on every street corner.
“The vibration was so like like home, I thought it would be the perfect place to experiment with that combination,” said Valcourt. “What was surprising was when we get to the studio the vibe is they catch up really quick. It was like the same beat. Vodou has more than 300 rhythms, so I thought it would be difficult to merge vodou with NOLA. What I didn’t expect was when we get to the studio that it seems like we’ve been playing together for a long time. We’re on the same level in thinking about music. It was really like family.”
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For their next project, Lakou Mizik combined their Haitian roots sounds with electronic dance music. Lakou Mizik collaborated with DJ and producer Joseph Ray on “Leave the Bones,” which blends the energetic sounds of Rara horns with hypnotic house beats. Other songs on the album show a more meditative and ambient side of Lakou Mizik.
“We are trying to mix the culture and have that oneness,” said Valcourt of the unique collaboration.
“If we have that unity we can change the world through that positive vibration…Every time you hear Haiti in the news you hear bad things, only the worst part. I think Haitian music is there to show that there is good and oneness in everything. That collaboration would make the world better.”
Joining Lakou Mizik at the Savannah Music Festival is singer-songwriter Leyla McCalla, returning to the festival for the first time since her stand-out performance in 2017.
McCalla is a Haitian-American artist who’s latest album, “Breaking the Thermometer,” is the result diving into the archives of Radio-Haiti Inter, Haiti’s first privately owned Creole-speaking radio station, whose owner, Jean Dominique, was assassinated in 2000.
McCalla, who plays cello and banjo, was commissioned by Duke University to collaborate on a project around their recently acquired radio archive.
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“We ended up creating a piece that incorporates sound design, video, music and dance,” said McCalla. “It’s been a massive education in the political history, not just of Haiti, but how tribal politics in the United States affects what happens in Haiti and in the West in general. I’m trying to find my place as a daughter of both.
“I’m very ripe for getting these ideas out into the world because I’ve been developing them for so long it is really gratifying to finally be able to share the story. I feel that it relates so much. We’re hearing about an experience and these big questions of ‘Do we even have a democracy?’ and ‘How do we save it?’ The value of democracy and freedom of speech.”
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McCalla rose to fame as part of the Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops, but her solo work has always been interested in Haitian traditions and Afro-Caribbean sounds. McCalla’s parents, who are Haitian emigrants, were human rights activists and she felt a connection to the project through them.
“My father in particular has relationships with some of the people that I’ve been listening to in the archives and that has informed my perspective on Haiti,” said McCalla.
“A lot of these things I came to as an adult, as well. There’s a consciousness about Haiti that has developed through my family, and then there is another part of me that is on this path of discovery and trying to understanding the things that were never told to me.”
McCalla and Lakou Mizik have collaborated on each other’s projects, so it should be interesting to see if there is any collaboration between them on stage. Although McCalla will be performing with a full band and sound bigger than her last appearance, she hinted that she would love to get some of Lakou Mizik’s Rara horns (metal trumpets called kone) into the mix.
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Last time McCalla performed at the Savannah Music Festival with Haitian mizik rasin ensemble Chouk Bwa, the evening ended with the two bands encircled by the audience for an impromptu jam session, so anything is possible.
What: Savannah Music Festival: Lakou Mizik w/Leyla McCalla
When: Friday, April 8 at 8 p.m.
Where: Metal Building at Trustee’s Garden, 10 E. Broad St.
Cost: $42
Info: savannahmusicfestival.org

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