Few distinct locales in the Americas better epitomize the fraught concept of cultural diversity than Haiti and New Orleans. Both are part of the broader Caribbean region, with corresponding histories of ferocious socioeconomic inequities, often linked to race and colonialism. Both are particularly vulnerable to natural disasters; their environmental problems increased by the aforementioned inequities. Both, though, are places where music is key to scenes of expressive culture, and on HaitiaNola, Haitian group Lakou Mizik – formed in the wake of the 2010 earthquake – teams up with a slew of prominent New Orleanian artists to bring together these two geographic points in brilliant chorus.
A wide range of superstars makes up the list of guest artists on HaitiaNola. The Preservation Hall Band, Trombone Shorty, Tarriona “Tank” Ball, Leyla McCalla, and Cyril Neville are just a few of the big names in the mix with the core Lakou Mizik crew, including roots pioneer Sanba Zao, second-generation popular musician Steeve Valcourt, singers Jonas Attis and Nadine Remy, bassist Junior Lamar, rara players Tipiti and James Carrier, and accordionist Beniste Belony, along with chorus members Saïda Bellamour and Samuel Priviose. It’s a lineup that speaks for itself. Lakou Mizik is made up of standard-bearers of the racine roots music scene, and delves deep into history and spirituality – Vodou themes feature heavily – but continue to innovate here, continuing to march toward an increasingly connected future.
With such pedigrees and musical histories in the mix, it comes as no surprise that the music on HaitiaNola is a joy to experience. Tropical sounds of the Afro-Caribbean mesh beautifully with brassy bombast as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band parades alongside Lakou Mizik on opening track “Renmen”, and “Pistach Griye” is bright, breezy, and graced with Trombone Shorty’s signature slides. Remy opens “La Fanmi” as a graceful, sparkling serenade with keys courtesy of Jon Cleary; it picks up gentle speed but remains angelic from start to finish. Tank of Tank and the Bangas adds her own warm, soulful brand of spoken word to “Kay Granpa”.
And so the celebrations continue, a constant kaleidoscope of sounds and moods. At the album’s midpoint is “Iko Kreyòl”, a particular highlight in terms of both catchiness and collaboration as Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and 79ers Gang join the band in evocations of Mardi Gras, Carnival, and their proposed Haiti-NOLA bond. Steel drums, horns, and metallic percussions come together in a vibrant sea of sound over relatively subtle, bass-heavy synths; featured solo vocalists and a strong chorus make for sunny verses.
Not to say that any one track is the be-all or end-all of the album. Lakou Mizik and their New Orleanian friends make a concerted effort to keep their music fresh throughout the album, drawing on just some of the many styles of music to be found in their respective home regions. Sometimes, this manifests in pensive strings. “Rasanbleman” features New Orleans-based Haitian-American cellist and singer-songwriter Leyla McCalla adding notes of melancholy to a powerful anthem of group solidarity. In other cases, it goes into full, driving rock, as in the hard-edged, reggae-tinged final track “Mizik Sa Yo” with King James. In any and every case, Lakou Mizik continue to build bridges across a region in diaspora, uniting representatives of music scenes separated by a sea, but united by similar experiences and overlapping histories.