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Friday 13 April
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In a nutshell
Mélissa Laveaux performs songs from her third album, Radyo Siwèl.
April 2016. Singer, songwriter and guitarist, Mélissa Laveaux heads to Haiti in search of her roots and on a mission to honour her ancestors. Two decades have gone by since she last set foot on the island when she was 12 years old. She feels like a stranger and yet, at the same time, she experiences the thrill of an exile returning home, for Haiti is an intrinsic part of her identity.
Born in Canada to Haitian parents and armed with a patched-together vocabulary of Creole from the metaphor-laden expressions and vibrant catch-phrases she’s heard her mother trade with her aunts over long-distance phone calls, she doesn’t know what will emerge musically from her pilgrimage. But as she dives in and discovers the folk songs that bred and nourished Haitians artists for generations, she is seduced by the depth and opulence of her extraordinary heritage.
She returned home from Haiti with a head full of sounds, melodies, moods and stories of distant times, as a track-list emerged, rich in the multi-layered allegories and symbolism that are characteristic of Haitian poetry and song, like a coded language of resistance. From these she built Radyo Siwèl, a unique album steeped in Haitian history and culture and yet which is also highly personal and intimate. “Radyo Siwèl is very important to me because there’s the whole part about remembering your ancestry and honouring your ancestors and elders,” she explains. “I’m getting reacquainted with parts of my heritage my parents left out when they were raising me.”
Images © Romain Staropoli
What to expect
On Radyo Siwèl, Mélissa’s attention turns to the American occupation of Haiti between 1915 and 1934. Popular songs became weapons of resistance once more, enlivened and reinterpreted by a new generation, making sense of hard times. Inextricably intertwined with the spirit of resistance was the presence of vodou and its many loas, or divinities, who were summoned to protect the Haitian people and to aid in the fight against their oppressors.
Some of the songs are so old, nobody knows who wrote them, as they were spread by itinerant troubadours and the rural orchestras, known as Bann’Siwel, which peddled the songs from village to village. Draping them in an indie rock aesthetic, Mélissa’s reinterprets Haitian heritage, taking traditional tunes, vodou anthems and scraps and phrases discovered in old songbooks, and sewing them together like a patchwork of intersecting identities.
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Things you should know
This event is wheelchair accessible.