Photo: Steve Baboun
These Haitian Artists Are Uplifting Their Homeland With Earthquake Relief Efforts: Michael Brun, Lakou Mizik, Naika & Jackboy
Producer Michael Brun, group Lakou Mizik, singer Naika, and rapper Jackboy share with GRAMMY.com how they're paying homage to their roots and helping locals following a devastating earthquake in Haiti
In the early morning of Aug. 14, 2021, a devastating earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 struck southern Haiti, impacting more than 500,000 people. The disaster occurred over a decade after the last 7.0 earthquake hit the capital, Port-au-Prince, causing similar damage to the land and displacing its people.
A month before the recent earthquake, Haiti's President Jovenel Moïse was shot 12 times and killed in his home in Port-au-Prince. Elsewhere, Haiti is currently reporting four new COVID-19 infections on average each day; comparatively, the United States is currently reporting 87,812 new COVID-19 infections on average each day.
But Haiti continues to be confined by negative stereotypes of strictly being an impoverished country with no type of educational system or adequate healthcare.
To combat those closed-minded perspectives, Haiti's music community immediately stepped in to change the narrative about the people and their homeland. Artists spanning all genres not only give their time and resources, but also use their music to celebrate community, pride, and the range of sounds they bring to the world.
From arranging blood and food drives to creating fundraisers and music education programs, artists out of Haiti are leading by example to show that charity indeed begins at home.
GRAMMY.com spoke with a few Haitian acts to talk about how they're using their platforms musically and in the community to change misconceptions about their home.
Originally studying to become a pediatrician, DJ/producer Michael Brun has never had a problem using his musical powers for good. The Haitian/Guyanese producer, who's behind 2018's FIFA World Cup anthem "Positivo" with J. Balvin and remixes for Tiësto, Calvin Harris, and Alicia Keys, has spent the last six years as a mentor for the music program at the Artists Institute Haiti, a school that provides access to musical instruments and production to youth, among other programs for young artists.
Also the founder of the record label Kid Coconut in 2014, Brun piloted the Wherever I Go Festival in 2016 as an effort to fund scholarships to the Artists Institute's students. The Port-au-Prince-born festival organizer's brainchild later became Bayo Festival, a touring block party-style extravaganza to showcase over 40 Haitian performers and musical stylings.
Brun just launched a GoFundMe campaign and a video series, hoping to get people to donate or take action. "In my lifetime, I've seen Haiti go through so many different really extreme situations, whether it's political instability or the country going through some type of disaster," Brun, a former hospital volunteer, told GRAMMY.com via Google Meet. "It's a lot of trauma to the people and the country, and it causes things to feel unstable. All of the work that I'm doing feels like a mission; it doesn't feel like a weakness."
Nine-member musical collective Lakou Mizik originally came together in 2010, aiming to uplift the people after the devastation of the earthquake. The group uses its performances to preserve history and connect the past to the present, meshing together Vodou chants, traditional Haitian songs, modern sounds like kompa and rara, and positive messages.
Having to slow down on performing gigs and hosting educational workshops because of the coronavirus pandemic, Lakou Mizik dropped Leave the Bones last August as a move to invite listeners into their colorful, vibrant world of counternarratives to famine or socioeconomic struggles. The band recorded a 2019 project, HaitiaNola, as a sonic linkage that connects the Haitian and Creole communities.
"When we're on stage and we sing, it's really about the energy and smiles that we bring to the world," lead singer and Artists Institute instructor Steeve Valcourt told GRAMMY.com. "Whenever we have a problem, we're all united. You see love among us, and our music shows why Haiti is special."
"Ride" and "Sauce" singer/songwriter Naïka has been fortunate to take her talents from studying at Berklee College of Music to competing on NBC's "The Voice" and having her music featured in an iPhone commercial. Now a viral sensation, the Haitian-French descendant born Naïka Richard is using her influencer status to shed light on her Haitian lineage.
Naïka gathered supplies and clothes in Los Angeles to have them shipped to Haiti. The entertainer behind the recent Lost in Paradise, Pt. 2 EP additionally purchased and sent tents to Haitians who lost housing. The 23-year-old, Miami-born social media starlet recently became an ambassador for Fleur de Vie, a nonprofit that works to create a stable educational infrastructure in Haiti.
"I'm looking forward to working with them because they've been hands-on in helping with earthquake relief and continue to do amazing, inspiring work," Naïka said."Haiti is a country with a rich, powerful, and surprisingly unknown history. I hope my music brings happiness and comfort as well as a sense of awareness, exploration, and empowerment."
When South Florida rapper Jackboy visited his homeland, he saw patients sleeping outside of the hospital because there were no more beds, and knew he could do more. For the growling and snarling rapper's latest video, "Where I'm From," the 1804 Records artist harmonizes and tongue rolls over snapping snares as he shares a graphic view of his interactions with Haiti's people and the ambiance across the island.
Captured in the clip giving hospital patients without beds their own envelopes of cash, Jackboy created a GoFundMe to help build and staff a state-of-the-art hospital. The 24-year-old performer born Pierre Delince caught the attention of GRAMMY-nominated rapper Lil Baby on Instagram. The Atlanta rapper pledged a generous donation towards Jackboy's campaign towards a medical facility.
"Hearing about it, it's just a bad situation, but when you actually go there and see Haiti, it's overwhelming," Jackboy said. "This little bit that I'm doing is alright, but I can try a little more."
Jessie Woo Brings The Haitian "Vacation" Vibes For Press Play At Home
For the latest edition of GRAMMY.com's Press Play At Home video series, the Miami-based songstress brings us on a much needed vacation with a rooftop performance of the breezy track
"I'm up in the club / But I'm looking for something. / I don't know what it is / But I know it's one thing / I can't waste the night away on nothing," Haitian-American singer/host/comedian Jessie Woo sings on "Vacation."
For the latest edition of GRAMMY.com's Press Play At Home video series (watch below!), the Miami-based songstress brings us on a much needed vacation with a rooftop performance of the breezy track.
"No fake friends, only day one bes / I've been waiting all day for / One night vacation," she continues in the chorus, invoking a celebratory, fun night out with friends we've certainly all missed over the months of quarantine.
"Vacation" is from Woo's 2019 debut EP, Moods Of A Cancer, and is a nod to her Haitian roots, featuring lyrics in Haiti's official language, Kreyòl. The vibrant music video was filmed in Haiti, with scenic aerial views from the Citadelle, a 19th Century fortress.
She first came into the spotlight by organically growing a big social media following, building a supportive community of women, the Seesters, on Instagram, and with hosting spots for BET, Twitter and more. Music is an important part of who she is, as she's been singing and playing drums since a young age and grew up in a musical family.
Press Play At Home: Watch Jackboy Perform A Soul-Affirming, Piano-Led Version Of “Show No Love"
In the latest episode of Press Play At Home, watch Haitian rapper Jackboy perform an intimate rendition of "Show No Love" accompanied by piano
Rapping over solemn piano — it can be executed well!
As an accompanist sounds resonant chords by candlelight, Haitian rapper Jackboy spits bars about the age-old hip-hop topic of needing to stay strapped.
"Say the good die young, so I bought me a gun/ Can't let a na take my life. Only f*ing with a few," he raps, sounding commensurately braggadocious and wounded.
In the latest episode of Press Play At Home, watch the two musicians lock into an unlikely synergy as Jackboy relates his streetwise hymn “Show No Love” to the people at home.
Check out the captivating video above and enjoy more episodes of Press Play At Home below.
The Culture Of Haiti Comes To Life
Alan Lomax In Haiti box set documents musicologist's historic 1930s expedition in Haiti
Editor’s note, Jan. 25, 2010: In mid-December, GRAMMY.com ran this feature on musicologist Alan Lomax’s sojourn to Haiti in the 1930s. His recording of Haiti’s culture and the recent release of that material may now prove more important than ever given the destruction caused by the Jan. 12 earthquake.
On Jan. 22, many notable music, film and television stars teamed for the multi-network airing of “Hope For Haiti Now,” a benefit concert to raise funds for Haiti’s disaster relief programs. The companion Web site provides a number of ways to donate to help rescue and rebuild Haiti.
In mid-December 1936, musicologist Alan Lomax, then 21, arrived in Haiti on a musical and cultural research and field-collecting expedition. He brought with him a cumbersome turntable-cutting unit for recording to disc and a stack of aluminum discs. Over the next four months he would struggle with language barriers; contracting intestinal malaria; dealing with a separation from his fiancée, Elizabeth Harold; cash-flow problems; and difficulties with receiving record supply shipments — all while lugging his 155-pound recording device around the country without a car.
Despite these obstacles, by March 1937 Lomax had collected nearly 50 hours of music and sound across 1,500 recordings, six short black-and-white 8mm films and hundreds of pages of notes. It was a remarkable effort, but for years it seemed it had been all for naught.
As late as the 1970s, Lomax examined his Haiti recordings but the noise and distortion contained within discouraged any notions of a release. (His Haitian expedition was the last time he would use the aluminum disc system for his field recordings.) The project was indefinitely shelved until the late '90s, when the Association for Cultural Equity and Alan Lomax Archive undertook a project that resulted in preservation work by the Library of Congress' American Folklife Center.
The aluminum discs were transferred at the LOC's Sound Lab in March 2000. It took nearly 10 years to transfer audio from the source discs and catalog, restore and master the recordings. Three-time GRAMMY-winning producer Steve Rosenthal and GRAMMY-winning engineer Warren Russell-Smith, along with engineer Will Berlind, worked at the Magic Shop studio in New York City, employing digital technologies to peel off layer after layer of noise to reveal the music underneath.
Some 70-plus years later, the result is the stunning box set Alan Lomax In Haiti. Released in November, the set was curated by ethnomusicologist and Haiti scholar Gage Averill and includes 10 CD volumes featuring Lomax's collection of music and films; a transcription of Lomax's journal (edited by his niece, Ellen Harold); a facsimile of his annotated map; and a hardcover book with extensive well-researched notes about the people, the historic circumstances of his expedition and the music.
"I've been working on Lomax projects since 1995," says Rosenthal. "The thing you always have to remember with a Lomax project is that you need to retain a sense of place in the recording. It's an interesting battle in that you want to de-noise and restore the music, but you don't want to sanitize it. You need to retain some of the original 'problems' because that will help you understand where he recorded it and how he recorded it."
Volume one, Meringues And Urban Music From Haiti, showcases a style Lomax gave short shrift because he considered it the music of the urban elites. The samples suggest a sweet elegant blend of Caribbean grooves and jazz influences.
Other volumes feature Mardi Gras music, carnaval music, rara music, children's songs, work songs, examples of the nearly extinct romance song, and French-style songs — sung in a mix of archaic French and Kreyòl. Addressing one of the most intriguing and controversial aspects of Haitian culture, especially given the sensationalistic reporting at the time, the set also features Lomax's recordings of ritual Voudou music and ceremonial music of different branches within Vodou. "Lomax was the first to record a Voudou ceremony from start to finish," notes Averill.
One of the major partners in the project is the Miami-based Green Family Foundation. A repatriation of a full set of the recordings to Haiti is planned for spring 2010 and Green Family Foundation President Kimberly Green says, "The organization we hope will house the actual set and would make it available to everybody is FOKAL [Fondation Connaissance et Liberté], which has a library and several educational programs."
When he arrived in Haiti, Lomax had already worked alongside his father, folklorist John Avery Lomax, and their field-collecting efforts throughout the Northeast, Southwest, Midwest, and South regions of the United States had produced the book American Ballads And Folk Song, and the groundbreaking set of recordings by folk musician Huddie Ledbetter, best known as Lead Belly.
Lomax's extraordinary 60-year-career would take him from Kentucky to Galicia, Spain; and the impact of his work on cultures worldwide is immeasurable. His archival contributions include the first-ever recordings by Woody Guthrie, Muddy Waters and David "Honeyboy" Edwards, as well as recordings by Pete Seeger and Jelly Roll Morton. In the mid-'90s, he completed work on the Global Jukebox, an interactive software tool designed to organize and synthesize the findings of anthropology and musicology. Lomax died in 2002 at age 87, and was awarded a posthumous Recording Academy Trustees Award in 2003.
But back in 1935, Lomax followed up his experiences with his father with expeditions to the Georgia Sea Islands, Florida, and the Bahamas. According to Averill, what he saw and heard during those trips furthered his interest in the African roots of African-American culture and the connections between African rooted cultures in the Americas.
"He was really hearing, and thinking about, how music seemed to relate across national boundaries," says Averill. "[Lomax collaborator] Zora [Neal Hurston] had an interest in Haiti, which she got from reading a book during the Haitian occupation. They talked about maybe going to Haiti, which they considered the most African-influenced region in the new world."
The difference between Alan and the other ethnographers was that he was deeply focused on the sound recording as his methodology. [Anthropologist Melville] Herskovits and others who went to Haiti would use recordings, but by and large they were writing. Alan wanted to record. That's what he brought to the ethnography of the Caribbean. He was interested in producing what he later called an alternative oral history."
Both a fascinating anthropological document and a stunning collection of music, Alan Lomax In Haiti is a fine example of a people's history captured in sound and film.
(Fernando Gonzalez is a contributing editor to The International Review of Music. He is based in Miami.)
GRAMMY Rewind: Rosalía Thanks Female Trailblazers Who Inspired Her As She Accepts A Latin GRAMMY For "Malamente" In 2018
As she stepped onstage to claim her Best Urban/Fusion Performance trophy at the 2018 Latin GRAMMYs, Rosalía thanked the women who came before her in the music industry — and proved that it pays off to go your own way.
2018 was a banner year for Rosalía at the Latin GRAMMY Awards: She brought home her first Latin GRAMMYs at the ceremony — both for "Malamente," the first single off of her second album, El Mal Querer.
In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, let's turn back the clock to that big night in November at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, and revisit the moment when Rosalía's name was called as the winner of a Latin GRAMMY in the Best Urban/Fusion Performance category.
The visibly stunned singer gradually made her way to the stage amid audience applause, and when she arrived at the podium, she was quick to thank those who helped her shape her sound.
"This is incredible. It's like a dream," she told the crowd in Spanish. "Thank you for all the love. Thank you for all this recognition."
Of course, fans and family were foremost on the list of people that Rosalía mentioned in her acceptance speech. Still, she also made special mention of some musical acts who've come before her.
Specifically, she wanted to thank the female artists across all genres who have inspired her, over the course of her career, to make music on her own terms. "I take pride in always leading in my projects and making music that represents me — taking risks, and sharing it with the world, and being here," Rosalía reflected.
"I want to thank women like Lauryn Hill, WondaGurl, Björk, Kate Bush, Ali Tamposi, Ninja," she went on to list. "All the women in the industry who've taught me that it can be done, because I'm here because of them. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. For real."
Press play above to watch Rosalía's full acceptance speech, and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com every Friday for more episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.
Behind The Board: Alex Kline Traces Her Journey To Becoming An In-Demand Nashville Producer And Songwriter
The Nashville-based songwriter and producer explains why working on music behind the scenes with an artist is her "happy place," and discusses the song she produced that made history at country radio.
Songwriter and producer Alex Kline is one of the most in-demand collaborators in Nashville's country music industry today — but she says her career actually started when she fell in love with a Red Hot Chili Peppers hit.
"I picked up the guitar when I was 13 because I heard "Under the Bridge" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and something about that guitar intro made me wanna learn how to play guitar," Kline explains in the newest interview of Behind the Board.
Those early interests ultimately led her to Nashville, where she began to work with country legends like Ronnie Dunn and Reba McEntire as well as the younger generation of country stars, such as Mitchell Tenpenny, Cassadee Pope and Meghan Patrick. Her work with Tenille Arts, on Arts' single "Somebody Like That," even led her to a historic No. 1 hit on the Mediabase Country Music charts.
"We actually made history as the first all-female team to have a No. 1," Kline continues. "I was the first solo female producer in country music to have a No. 1. Which is kinda crazy, that it took until 2021 to have a female do that."
Kline says she loves the collaborative work that goes into producing an artist's music. "That's really my happy place — developing with an artist and creating the sound, going from the ground all the way up," she explains, adding that she's even learned to embrace compromise over the course of her career.
"I'll usually have an idea of something, and I'll think that a certain song sounds perfect, and then the artist will say, 'Oh, I want...' something that's maybe 10 percent different than what I would hear. And I sometimes don't necessarily at first think that they're right, but then I always usually come around," Kline continues.
"I think it's just good to be open and flexible," she adds with a laugh, "and as a producer, remember that it's the artist's name on the project, and not my name in big letters with my picture on it. So they have to be in love with it."
Press play on the video above to learn more about Kline's journey towards being a Nashville songwriter and producer, and keep checking GRAMMY.com for more episodes of Behind the Board.