Today begins the first of several reports by Maryse Dejean and Don Paul from their visit to the 2014 Port-au-Prince International Jazz Festival, January 18 to January 25.
Coming soon: the guitarist and composer Lionel Louéké', born in Benin, west Africa, and recent collaborator with Terence Blanchard, Robert Glasper, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter, talks about how he feels New Orleans is his "home" and how beignets are in Benin.
And here's our first report
Performances and settings at the 8th annual Port-au-Prince International Jazz Festival have been of as high a quality as any we've had the good fortune to experience over the past 10 years.
How good the sound is from stages of this Festival! How artful are the stages' settings! How accomplished and path-making much of the music! How lucky we are to catch passages of performances and interviews here!
From the first four nights of this Festival in Haiti (Ayiti), January 18 to 21, we want to share with you the guitarist, composer and improviser Lionel Louéké and his trio with Michael Olatuja and John Davis; the new sextet led by Haitian-American Willerm Delisfort; Sandra Nkake' of Cameroon and France and her band; and the soulful Haitian singer of Gospel and Vodoun themes, James Germain.
Lionel Louéké has had a journey both singular and representative of musicians who cross borders in the 21st century. He was born 40 years ago in Benin, west Africa. As a teen-ager, decided on the guitar after beginning with drums, he replaced his broken strings with bicycle-gear cables. He traveled around the countryside, recording traditional music on cassettes. He won scholarships to study in the Ivory Coast, Paris, Boston's Berklee School of Music, and the Theolonius Monk Jazz Institute. He was quickly invited into the touring bands of Terence Blanchard, Herbie Hancock, and Wayne Shorter. His second album for the Blue Note label, 2012's Heritage, includes three collaborations with Robert Glasper, another adventurous composer and improviser.
"Yeah, I will keep exploring," Lionel Louéké says in our interview, conducted two days after his trio's performance at the Festival here in Port-au-Prince. "That's what I like to do. I get bored quickly. That's why I say I'm always looking for new sounds, a new way of playing." He talks about discovering "a whole different color" from playing with distortion and nylon strings, instead of steel, on his electric guitar in the concert two nights earlier.
Later in our interview, Lionel Louéké responds to a question about what he can imagine for himself five years into the future: "Five years from now, I want to be a better musician, but even before that I want to be a better person," he says. " I want to be just a better human being. I'm realizing, with the age, you know, that music is not who I am. Just--I'm a musician. That's what I do, but I'm a human being first. If I can clear--if I can be a better human being, then as an improviser it's definitely going to affect the way I play.... Because if I feel better inside, and outside, the music will be better. Totally."
The first excerpt we'll share with you is an improvisation in which you may hear and see Lionel finding that "whole different color" through the nylon strings.
Parts of interview with Lionel Louéké, January 21, 2013:
"Yeah, I will keep exploring"
"Five years from now I want to be a better musicians, but even before that I want to be just a better human being"
Thanks to Joel Widmaier and Milena Widmaier and their great team for the Festival, thanks to WWOZ, and thanks to Michael Macy and the U.S. Embassy in Haiti. Video shot by the Creative Studio in Port-au-Prince and edited with the gifted Aristide Phillips.
Maryse Dejean and Don Paul, Port-au-Prince, January 25, 2014