Fillmore Benefit Will Contribute Direct Aid to Quake Victims
I recently grabbed a few minutes of Mickey’s time to talk about the benefit and about the music of Haiti.
I know that you feel that Haitian music and culture was very important and influential on the development of American music. Tell me a little about the connections.
Music from Haiti was a major catalyst for the explosion of music in America. As you know, the black diaspora—the slave trade—brought all these different kinds of music from West Africa—chants and powerful trance rhythms; what they call the “rhythm of the saints.” It came into Brazil and then into Central America and the Caribbean.
How did Haiti sharing Hispaniola island with the Spanish (what is now the Dominican Republic) affect the music?
It all kind of came together. People were visiting each other and marrying, so you have a real fusion of cultures. It wasn’t a collision. They all shared a common bond and that was West African music. Haiti had more French influence, of course. And more of that went to New Orleans.
This benefit is going to honor many of those music and spiritual traditions that came from the Caribbean.
It looks like it will be another of your amazing pan-cultural things with Rebecca Mauleon and Sikiru and Giovanni Hidalgo…
They’ll be there, as will Gabe Harris, who plays djembe, Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, Raz Kennedy… all these wonderful voices. And we’re going to perform a lot of the chants that came out of Haiti and the Caribbean.
Are there well-known Haitian percussionists?
Not really. They’re mostly folkloric, and then there are the ritual guys and they never get out
By “ritual” do you mean the Vodou side?
Yes, that’s what it’s all about. That’s part of their traditional religion. I think close to 90 percent of people still practice that in some form. The music is such an important part of it, too. It’s the rhythms that allow them to connect to the Creator in their world. People do it in different ways in different cultures, of course. In Haiti, and many other places, they do it with large cylinder drums and dancing.
Are there some drums that are unique to Haiti?
Sure. One of my favorites is the rada, which is a family of three drums—“mother” [the mamon]which is the largest, “father” and “the baby.” And it’s played as a family so its both metaphorical and symbolic. They’re very hard to play, but Giovanni is one of the best in the world at it. It has two very distinct tones—one is very high pitched and the other is a very low, flat sound. One head is really loose and the other is really tight—it’s like hitting pavement! You have to be ready to play rada. It’s not one of those things you walk up to casually and play. It’s a real physical feat to be able to play it well.
How did this benefit show come about?
A lot of people were calling me—they all had this feeling of wanting to do something for Haiti. I wanted to do something; my heart was breaking over this. We located this great organization called What If?, and we vetted them quite well and learned that they’ve been on the streets of Port-Au-Prince for 20 years, bringing food, water. It’s a real direct way to get aid to the people.
And everybody volunteered for this. No one’s getting paid anything. There’s no superstructure—there’s no administration; nothing. We’re just going to take all the money and put it in their hands and let then do what they do. So it’s the biggest bang for your buck, and it’s a really good way for you to feel good and me to feel good, and everybody else who’s participating whether they’re buying a ticket or playing it to feel good. It’s also a great feeling to come together as a musical community, because a lot of these people don’t get together that much, because it’s not really commercial music. But it’s a really soulful experience drumming-wise and being in the rhythm of the moment and all very focused on the task at hand—which is to raise a lot of money for a place that has really gotten a bad deal on a lot of levels, for many years, even before the quake.
The silent auction should raise some good money, too.
I hope so. We hope to have an online silent auction as well, if we can put it together. But at the show we’ll definitely have some very interesting swag to bid on. Stand by for a very cool auction.
Anyway, I really encourage anyone who can to come out for this because you probably haven’t seen anything quite like it before and you might not see anything like this again. It’s going to be a real happening, and it such an important cause.