This post was originally published for World Cafe, via NPR Music. Photo by Michael Sipe Jr./Courtesy of the artist.
On paper, a collaboration between the multi-generational Haitian band Lakou Mizik and Grammy-winning electronic musician Joseph Ray might be an unlikely coupling. Their forthcoming album,Leave The Bones, is far from that. Through Vodou chants, Rara dance tunes and contemporary protest songs, the album is a mesmerizing, haunting and uplifting journey into the heart of Haitian culture.
“Ogou (Pran Ka Mwen),” premiering today on World Cafe, is the first song and music video from the album. It’s an impassioned plea to Ogou, the Vodou spirit of Iron and War, for protection from the brutality of daily life. The music video follows a father and son preparing for a celebration in Jacmel, Haiti. Anchored by traditional Haitian rhythms, a spirited string arrangement and a soaring, jubilant chorus, it captures a magical, often unseen world of Kanaval. Directed by Kavah Nabatian, the music video offers a colorfully mystical and visually stunning immersive experience.
For the last decade, Lakou Mizik have risen to prominence in Haiti’s Rasin (roots) movement. It began in the 1980s, with bands like Boukman Eksperyans — a predecessor of the group — who took traditional Haitian vodou music and combined it with modern, electric instrumentation. Lakou Mizik’s 2019 album, Haitianola, showcased the band’s Haitian roots with cultural connections to New Orleans, including collaborations with Arcade Fire, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Leyla McCalla and more. Their story was recently featured as part of the Kanaval: Haitian Rhythms & the Music of New Orleans documentary.
Grammy winner and founding member of pioneering electronic trio NERO, Joseph Ray, had never heard of Lakou Mizik when he arrived in Haiti in 2015. In correspondence with World Cafe, Lakou Mizik’s Steeve Valcourt wrote:
We met Joseph Ray when he was teaching production at the Artist’s Institute in Jacmel. We remember him watching intently from the back of one of our shows at the local beach-club — one of the only foreigners there. After getting to know each other, we came to understand that Joe understood the spirit of Haiti.
Ray himself remembers the performance he first saw, reminding him of the spirit of his early electronic music and clubbing experiences. He was drawn to work more collaboratively with the band. Ray wanted to more fully realize the spiritual scope of Lakou Mizik’s sound after initially wanting to sample them. Ultimately, the project became a collaborative effort. Learning how to produce and engineer for a nine piece band, Ray incorporated new time signatures and rhythmic ideas into the mix — adding field recordings from ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax and replacing synth sounds with Mbiras and conch shell samples.
The collaboration points to a greater cultural good as well. “We hope this project we’ve created together will open up Haitian music and culture,” Valcourt writes. “To new audiences who will come to appreciate our country for more than the news they might see about it.”
Leave The Bones is set to release on August 6th, 2021.