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Tanbou Markus Schwartz Released early this month, "Tanbou Nan Lakou Brooklyn" is the second album launched by percussionist Markus Schwartz almost 14 years after his debut CD "Simiḍ". For this second opus, the percussionist grants us with the most impressive cast of musicians ever put together in the history of Haitian Jazz. KariJazz met with him and he graciously accepted to answer some questions.

KariJazz: Markus, you have been involved in the Haitian Jazz movement for years and your work has been an expression of your engagement to build something new from Haitian religious music. What drives you in this endeavor? Why Haitian roots music?

Markus: The short answer is that the roots music of Haiti is the music I love the most! I was completely taken by Haitian drumming, and the songs & dances that accompany the traditional Haitian drums, very early in my percussion studies, and that love has continued to grow over the past twenty years. I dig many different styles of music from Africa, and the African Diaspora, (including jazz, funk, blues, rock, reggae, hip-hop and more!) but the traditional music of Haiti holds a special and unique place in my heart.

KariJazz: We want to congratulate you on this remarkable album you just released. We like the idea of inclusiveness you showed on this album. There is a profusion of styles rendered by various musicians from different cultures and backgrounds. How did it go when it came to managing such an ambitious project?

Markus: Thank you very much! I am proud of "Tanbou nan Lakou Brooklyn". I worked extremely hard on this album, and feel a great sense of accomplishment now that it is completed. There was a tremendous spirit of collaboration and generosity that permeated the making of this recording, and I think one can hear it in the music.

As far as managing the project, having my own studio space to work in was one of the keys which allowed me to go at my own pace, and be able to record and work with other musicians with a flexible and unhurried schedule. The entire project took me a year to complete. There is a Kreyol expression "Jou Bare'm"-- when people go out to dance and have fun in the Rara, and end up staying out until the sun comes up. I had so many of those nights in the studio, i half-jokingly considered calling the CD "Jou Bare'm" !

I taught myself enough Pro Tools (recording software) to be able to engineer all the sessions myself, and do some minor edits, overdubs, etc. Its pretty amazing what results you can achieve with Pro Tools and a few good mics. I made sure to mix and master the recording at two reputable facilities: Bennett Studios in Englewood, NJ and Avatar in NYC. These folks know their stuff, and I am very happy with the end result.

My ongoing work within the Haitian (jazz & roots) and NYC jazz music community provided me with access to such a wonderful cast of musicians who grace the recording with their talents.

KariJazz: How did you come up with this rich and diverse cast of musicians? Did you have any problem convincing folks such as Jeff Ballard or Jacques Schwarz-Bart or Ugonna Okegwo?

Markus: The cast of musicians on the new CD came about by calling upon folks whom I had worked with in the past, on gigs and/or studio sessions. Fortunately, it didn't take much convincing to get Jeff, Ugonna, Jacques, Frederic or any of the cats to participate in the recording. I think creative musicians are always looking for new sounds, influences and approaches to broaden their horizons and continue to develop their craft.

Jacques was interested right away when I mentioned the project to him. His Sone Ka La project is in some ways a similar mission with regards to embracing his Gwoka roots in a funky jazz context. The biggest challenge with Jacques was that he is very busy and often out of town. Ugonna Okegwo is someone I first met almost ten years ago on a gig with the sax player Sam Newsome. After playing with Ugonna, I kept track of his career and remain a huge fan of his musical talents. On the spur of the moment, I sent him an email with a brief description about the direction of my music and inquiring about his participation. He replied right away and we got together shortly thereafter to record his tracks. Ugonna mentioned to me how much he enjoyed the "feel" of Haitian rhythms, and how they have a "swing" which lends themselves to a jazz setting very well. It was a huge affirmation for me to hear him say that, especially since this was his first exposure to the Haitian drums.

I had a similar experience with Mr. Jeff Ballard, who was already a friend as well as my upstairs neighbor in Brooklyn. (He has since moved from NYC, unfortunately for me!) I used to go hear Jeff whenever he was in town, and have had the good fortune of hearing him live in many different settings, from trios to big bands. Once after a gig Jeff had with Lionel Loueke and Miguel Zenon (an INCREDIBLE trio that I really hope will record one day), we dropped by my studio and jammed for a while in the early morning hours. Jeff was inspired by the grooves of the Haitian rhythms and we had a great time. Months later, out of the blue, he offered to play drums on my project, and of course I jumped at the opportunity.

KariJazz: We have always known your involvement in Jazz music by co-founding the Haitian Jazz band Mozayik. On this album there is a noticeable change of direction because you seem to embrace a broader field in terms of musical expression. Is Markus shifting toward a more World Beat sort of music?

Markus: "Tanbou Nan Lakou Brooklyn" does span a range of musical styles so it may be difficult to pigeon-hole this recording to a specific genre... I guess it comes down somewhere in the World/Jazz realm. I think the luxury of a solo project as opposed to a band scenario, is the opportunity to freely explore and express different aspects of one's musical vision and personality, without compromise.

Mozayik has a certain group sound, one which only comes from working as a unit for a long time. Mozayik's sound is readily identifiable, and I love adding my piece of the puzzle to the larger whole. That said, Mozayik is only one aspect of who I am musically. I wanted my own solo project to be independent of my work in Mozayik, a personal testament to who I am as an artist and a person, and to reflect my unique relationship to Haitian culture and the legacy of the Haitian Drum.

To give you a bit of background: I started learning and playing Haitian drums for dancers. I honed my chops playing 30 hours of Haitian dance class accompaniment and rehearsals per week for years in the S.F. Bay Area -sometimes doing up to four classes per day! Later, I sweated it out by drumming in countless all-night Vodou ceremonies in basements in Brooklyn and Queens, sought out many of the best Haitian drummers to play with and learn from, and began traveling back and forth to Haiti to further my studies. I played Mizik Rasin & Vodou Jazz with the musicians from FOULA at an early stage in my Haitian musical education. I went in the Rara. All of this came before the creation of Mozayik.

The musicians on this project come from diverse backgrounds, from Haiti of course, but also California and New York, from Africa (Nigeria and Zimbabwe), Guadeloupe, Germany, Switzerland and France -- Not to mention a certain Danish-born half-Jewish American Vodou/Jazz percussionist - (LOL) Our musical backgrounds are equally diverse. This diversity converged at the cultural crossroads which is BROOKLYN, and from this came Tanbou Nan Lakou Brooklyn - Haitian Drums in the Brooklyn Yard!

KariJazz: The Afro-Haitian Jazz Suite that you included within this mosaic of styles is beautifully done, especially the soothing Danbala and the very inviting Cecia based on the "Afro" rhythm. Where do you see this type of jazz approach going?

Markus: Thank you. I think the future of Afro-Haitian jazz is bright... less than a week after I released "Tanbou Nan Lakou Brooklyn", National Public Radio used the track "Cecia" as a musical interlude on their "Morning Edition" broadcast! I feel there is limitless potential for this marriage between Haitian traditions and jazz. To me, its more of a "re-connection" of sorts. Jazz is music of the Caribbean as much as it belongs to the U.S.A. New Orleans was a Caribbean port city with a strong Creole culture at the birth of this wonderful music we now call jazz. We who consider ourselves "Haitian jazz" artists should do our best to work together to create and uplift the genre, through collaboration and sharing. We also need to fully embrace the Haitian musical and cultural history and traditions through active study and personal relationships with those who are the standard-bearers of these traditions. This will help us to incorporate and represent these traditions authentically in our new works, as well as preserving them for generations yet to come.

KariJazz: Thanks for your time.

Markus: Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my music, and for providing this wonderful resource of karijazz.com to the world.

Alphonse Piard, Jr.
November 13, 2008

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