When Zach Niles, founder of the Haitian “Lakou Mizik” project, first approached Focusrite Novation about his mission, we knew that we supported his vision and empathized with his ambitions to inspire and uplift the Haitian community through the influence of music.
“I believe deeply in the power of music to help reshape people's image of a place and it's people. The idea for Lakou Mizik at the beginning was sort of a ‘Buena Vista Social Club’ for Haiti. It has since evolved beyond a traditional album into a more widespread idea of recording and making short films and music videos of musicians around the country. Without me even realizing what direction I was going in, I started recording musicians from all walks of life, from Haitian legends like Boulo Valcourt, Sanba Zao and Beken to young stars like BelO and Jonas Attis, to unknown street musicians and surprise talents from different corners. What I found was that Haiti is a country bursting with music and musical talent. Everywhere you look there's someone carrying a guitar or playing a drum. I couldn't resist exploring further and seeing what would come of recording as much as I could.”
Focusrite Novation offered to provide the tools that would enable Zach and his artists to record with the best quality audio interfaces and keyboard controllers.
“When I unpacked the Focusrite and Novation boxes that were so generously donated, my Haitian collaborator Steeve Valcourt and I laughed. Honestly. It felt like a world of possibilities opened. We knew that there in our hands was the nicest recording set up, possibly in the country, but certainly that these Haitian artists had ever worked on.
We used the Saffire Pro 40 and Octopre MkII for our sound card and record into Logic. We were given a donation of microphones from Blue Mics and have bolstered that with a quiver of microphones (AKG, Senheisser, Shure) donated by individuals or purchased with grant money. In the studio, we record almost entirely acoustic - guitars, accordion, traditional drums and percussion, upright bass, banjo. We have also done some really nice field recordings with the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2.
In truth, our "studio" is just my living room - a high ceilinged wooden room open to the world and big wooden doors with hand made baffling. Barking dogs and car horns are pretty typical. Roommates walk through to get coffee. Neighbors hang out in the yard. On the one hand it seems unprofessional and on the other it's one of the nicest studios in the country. The sound is amazing and organic. The vibe is perfect. Focusrite Novation made it possible. Truly. It turned something fairly amateur into a place where music could be recorded and released in the states.
The first thing recorded with the Focusrite Novation gear was an album by a local Haitian legend named Beken. He hadn’t recorded in almost a decade and his new album will be released this year by 30Tigers records, produced by Chris Donohue based in Nashville.
The fun has been taking some of these raw tracks and sending them to my musician and producer friends in the states and Canada. We've been able to find a striking musical common ground and have made some really beautiful recordings. I'm now in the process of finalizing some tracks to sell online and support these musicians.
We recently recorded a song with guitar, upright bass, acoustic guitar and banjo called "Reflection" by an accordion player named Allen Juste. A Canadian songwriter named Chris Velan is producing it. The song is a mournful observation written shortly after the earthquake in 2010 that equates Haiti to a Mother crying out in sadness on what has befallen her children and humbly searching for kindness from strangers.
One of the best experiences was recording a blind, homeless musician named Olence Calixte. He came to the studio and was so excited since he'd never professionally recorded before. We recorded a great Christmas song he wrote and sent it to friends in Montreal, Brooklyn, and Nashville and sold it before the holidays. With the proceeds from this one track, he was able to move off the street and into a small apartment with his family.
Everyone from the Haitian engineers to my friends from Canada and the states who have visited have all loved the ease of use and reliability of the Focusrite and Novation gear (which is saying something in the tropical weather of Haiti). The equipment is flawless and the vibe is organic and cultivates a really unique feeling.
The gear that Focusrite Novation donated to Lakou Mizik has literally made dreams come true for a big cast of musicians who may have otherwise never been able to record their music. The studio that they have helped to create has become a community unto itself of dedicated, talented musicians who are experiencing the joys of having access to a professional studio for the first time in their lives. We are recording traditional songs and unique voices the have never been recorded and creating a collective spirit around a real celebration of Haitian music and culture. It was the company's generosity, not just of gear, but spirit that made me feel so good about the partnership.
A place like Haiti deserves to have a professional music industry that is connected to the international community. Having professional studios to capture the creativity and traditions of the country is so important. To that end, the Lakou Mizik journey and the music that the studio produced has landed me in a new position with an organization called “Artists for Peace and Justice.” The organization is starting up the first university level audio production and engineering school in the country. Looks like I'll be in Haiti for longer than I expected.”
For more information about Lakou Mizik, please visit www.lakoumizik.com
To hear the music recorded at the Lakou Mizik studio, please visit https://soundcloud.com/lakou-mizik
Also check out the website for Artists for Peace and Justice (www.apjnow.org) the organization responsible for opening the Music Production and Engineering School headed by Zach Niles.