Diaspora

Haitian roots group Lakou Mizik: Bringing 'new fire' back to Vermont – Rutland Herald

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Rain likely. Snow may mix in. High 48F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 100%. Rainfall near a half an inch..
Rain ending this evening. Partial clearing overnight. Low 33F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 80%.
Updated: April 16, 2022 @ 2:58 am
Haitian roots group Lakou Mizik plays multiple shows in Vermont, which the band considers its home base in the United States, including Thursday at NVU-Lyndon, Friday at Woodstock Town Hall Theater and April 23 at Higher Ground Showcase Lounge. From left are: Belony Beniste, Peterson “Ti Piti” Joseph, Nadine Niles, Steeve Valcourt, Jonas Attis, Sanba Zao, James Carrier and Junior Lamarre.

Haitian roots group Lakou Mizik plays multiple shows in Vermont, which the band considers its home base in the United States, including Thursday at NVU-Lyndon, Friday at Woodstock Town Hall Theater and April 23 at Higher Ground Showcase Lounge. From left are: Belony Beniste, Peterson “Ti Piti” Joseph, Nadine Niles, Steeve Valcourt, Jonas Attis, Sanba Zao, James Carrier and Junior Lamarre.
Initially started by Woodstock native Zach Niles and Haitian musicians Steeve Valcourt and Jonas Attis during the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake that decimated Haiti, lauded Haitian roots group Lakou Mizik performs multiple shows in Vermont on a long-awaited tour that finds the band firing on all cylinders.
The band is riding high on acclaim for its latest album, “Leave the Bones,” a collaboration with Grammy Award-winning electronic artist Joseph Ray that’s been a huge hit in electronic circles and has introduced Lakou’s music to an entirely new audience.
Couple that with an already respectable fanbase that’s starving for live music experiences, and Lakou Mizik has basically been killing it since kicking off its current tour a few weeks ago.
“They’re having a blast,” said Niles, 48, of Barnard, who assumed the role of band manager upon its inception.
“They’re getting such great reviews and standing ovations everywhere,” he said in a Tuesday phone interview. “I feel like it’s brought new fire to their shows, for sure.”
Lead singer Steeve Valcourt, 39, confirms the sentiment. “Everybody was probably stuck home” during the pandemic, he said Wednesday in a phone interview from Arkansas, where Lakou Mizik performed that evening.
“Now they have some really nice, hot sunny vibrations straight from Haiti, so I think they love it,” he said. “People really dig it. After two songs, they’re already ready to roll.”
Released in August on the London-based Anjunadeep label, “Leave the Bones” is a deeply compelling album that blurs the lines between global and electronic music. It’s a potent and captivating set of stunning beauty that rewards repeated listens and deserves a wide audience.
The album is Lakou Mizik’s third and follows two albums on the Charlotte-based Cumbancha label: 2019’s “HaitiaNola” and the band’s 2016 debut album, “Wa Di Yo.”
Niles, a Middlebury College graduate, had co-directed the acclaimed 2005 documentary film, “Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars” — in addition to being the West African band’s manager — who released three albums on Cumbancha in the 2010s.
Looking for new project, Niles headed to Haiti after the earthquake. “My idea was just a ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ project,” he said, “but really focusing on telling stories of musicians and changing perspectives about a place through music and the stories of musicians.
Niles connected with Valcourt and Attis, and the threesome recorded and released a song. That led to somebody asking them to play a show, which led to bringing more area musicians into the mix.
“It went really well,” said Niles of the show. “I really didn’t think we were starting a band,” he added. “And it was kind of like, ‘Uh oh, I think we just started a band.’”
Niles stayed in Haiti to help build a music school called the Artists Institute, hiring Valcourt to help him build a music studio, where Lakou Mizik ended up recording “Wa Di Yo.” Meanwhile, Valcourt and Attis were going around to the displacement camps and playing traditional Haitian songs for people to lift their spirits.
“They were using music to heal internally in the country, and my idea was more of an externally focused project,” said Niles. “So it was kind of cool that we came together in that way.”
“We wanted to bring a song that brings everyone together,” said Valcourt, “because we have the old generation under the camp, we have the new generation, we have church people, we have Vodou style.”
“So that’s where the idea of Lakou Mizik started,” he said. “We create one song to mix all that, the physical face of an old traditional song, and then put some reggae on it, put some dancehall to it. So that was the start of everything.”
For the “HaitiaNola” album, Lakou Mizik immersed itself in the city and culture on New Orleans.
“We thought, ‘How can we blend the culture of Haiti with the culture of New Orleans?’” said Valcourt. “Which is the same thing we did in the first place, for the ‘Wa Di Yo’ album, is how we can mix all generations together but still keep the Haitian tradition of Vodou rhythm under it.”
Though most of the Lakou Mizik members live in Haiti, the group considers Vermont its home base in the United States. (Singer Nadine Niles, who is married to Zach Niles and lives in Barnard with their two children, will perform with the band for the Vermont shows.)
“I love Vermont,” said Valcourt. “It’s our second home.”
That said, he still considers Haiti his true home. “That’s where I go when I need to bring back some inspiration, and you have to be there to talk about Haiti,” he said.
“You have to be part of it, and I guess that’s part of my mission in Lakou Mizik,” he added.
“Because when we do a song, we go into the sector that we really want to mention. We understand it, we live with them, we ask questions first to do a song that goes with it. I think that’s really important to get that connection with the hometown.”
thomaswhuntington @hotmail.com
thomaswhuntington@hotmail.com

Lakou Mizik performs the following shows in Vermont:
— Thursday, April 21, 8 p.m.: Alexander Twilight Theatre, Northern Vermont University-Lyndon, $10 (general admission; free for NVU community); call 888-757-5559 or go online to www.catamountarts.org
— Friday, April 22, 7:30 p.m.: Woodstock Town Hall Theatre, $25 ($15 for age 6-15; free for age 5 and younger). Free matinee performance for students at 10 a.m. Call 802-457-3981 or go online to pentaglearts.org
— Saturday, April 23, 8 p.m.: Higher Ground Showcase Lounge, S. Burlington (opening VJ set by Jacob Edgar), $20 in advance, $23 day of show (all ages); call 888-512-7469 or go online to www.highergroundmusic.com
— Friday, May 13, 7:30 p.m.: Next Stage Arts Project, Putney (Bandwagon Summer Series). Details TBA; call 802-387-0102 or go online to nextstagearts.org
— Saturday, May 14, 4 p.m.: Barnard Town Hall, Barnard. Details TBA; call 802-234-1645 or go online to www.barnarts.org
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