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gashford guillaumeWe, at Karijazz, are pleased to add another interview to our list. The following discussion features one of the leading drummers on the Haitian Jazz scene: Mr. Gashford Guillaume. His talent and drive combined with the energy and great sense of rhythm of Markus Schwartz have weaved a solid background which constitute the trademark of New-York based Haitian Jazz band MOZAYIK. Today, Karijazz wants to spot the lights on this great band by opening a dialog with GG. He talked to us about the group he loves and what he envisions for the future.

Karijazz: This is a pleasure to have you, and thanks to gladly accept our invitation.

Gashford G: It's an honor for me to take part in this interview. Karijazz has been doing so much to support the Haitian jazz movement and it is my pleasure to contribute to your efforts.

Karijazz: Can you make a brief synopsis of your journey with Mozayik? When did this musical adventure begin?

Gashford G: I've been a founding member of Mozayik for eight years now. Before we became an official band, we would meet every week to practice jazz standards so we can build our musical skills. The Haitian jazz concept is something that was introduced to me by Eddy and our first bassist Philippe Charles (brother of Joe Charles, original bassist of Zekle and Top Vice). In our rehearsals, we were focused on finding ways to implement Haitian rhythms and idioms to jazz standards, as well as original compositions. When we found the anecdote to our way of creating our approach to this concept, we wrote more originals and started to perform live more often. Our musical repertoire was growing and we felt it was time to document our music. We rehearsed for about one year, recorded the studio project and released our debut CD in 2000.

Karijazz: Tell us about one of your best moments with Mozayik?

Gashford: My absolute best moment was performing at the First annual Haitian Jazz festival that was held at SOB'S in 2005. The amount of people that came to the festival was unbelievable. It was there we realized how much support Haitian jazz had. There were people that have not been out for years. People that wanted to go to a Haitian music event other than kompa. There were jazz aficionados, fans of the variety of Haitian jazz musicians, people who just came out of curiosity. People came to the fest from long distances, without a ticket. It was just an amazing thing to see at SOBS, There was a line outside that stretched around the corner and stayed that way well after 1:00am. For years Mozayik worked on getting our music to the ears of a wider audience… Mainly the mainstream jazz world and world music scene. This event gave us so much hope and proved that Haitian jazz had its public. On stage, we felt so much love and warmth from the audience. Hundreds of them! When we ended our last song, they showed us their appreciation and it was such a good feeling for us. This event was an encouragement for other artists as well. It was revealed to me this type of music is here to stay and I look forward to seeing new musicians and bands come out.

Karijazz: You and Markus have developed a great partnership in shaping a rhythm section that have become one of the benchmark of Kreyňl jazz in the Haitian Jazz movement. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Gashford G: Ah! Working with Markus has been such a great learning experience for me. I've learned so much. Before Mozayik, I first met Markus at a gig with a Haitian rock roots band we played together on a year or two before Mozayik was formed. He played the Haitian rhythms so fluently and with no accent. He did not sound like a student but as if he was born and raised in Haiti and grew up in the culture. A "blan" playing at this level can really mess with a person's mind when you watch him play. It's not a common thing to see. I invited him to jam with us (Eddy, Philippe and I) as a way to see how he would fit in a jazz setting. One of my first Mozayik compositions "Nago Wes", is a jazz waltz. Markus showed us a rhythm that would fit in the music and he inserted the nago rhythm in the tune. It was a perfect fit! Eddy had other compositions based on Haitian rhythms but having Markus there aloud us to do a lot of experimenting with a variety of rhythms and learn more about the different elements that make up these beautiful rhythms from Haiti. We incorporated new rhythms to our compositions. Markus is very knowledgeable when it comes to traditional Haitian music or folklore. It took a lot of practice to be able to intertwine rhythms from a drum set and Haitian drum patterns. Our goal was to sound as "one". I learned to play inside of the rhythms Markus was playing and he learned to play inside of what I was playing. It depends on the tune. After a while, feeling what each other were playing became second nature. We are extremely comfortable playing together. We've done several gigs outside of Mozayik together and as a unit, it's been working out great. I have to say, what helped us to have this good chemistry with one another is the fact that we really listen and "feel one another" when we play. We focus on getting our rhythms across without "stepping on each other's toes" (clashing with each other rhythmically).

Karijazz: What is the key of the success of the band? Is there a recipe?

Gashford G: Hmm… Good question… Well, the key is to have a vision. We sat down and discussed what's been done by other groups before, what worked and what failed… Once we had our vision and knew what we wanted to accomplish, we had to be dedicated to our music. Preparation and rehearsing is very important. We take the time to find the best blend of the rhythms, chords and melodies and get the best feel. We have high standards when it comes to musicianship. Consistency plays a big role as well. These things have allowed us to have our own musical identity.

Karijazz: Mozayik has developed a culture of excellence as evidence by the CDs the band already released. However the timeline between the projects has been quite huge (5 years). As a pretty steady group, one would expect a more reasonable gap? Why is the band not producing more?

Gashford G: We've self produced both of our CD's (Mozayik & Rhythmic Reflections) however, we always look to get a record deal for our projects. It's been challenging for us to find the "right" deal, therefore, we finish the projects on our own. Raising the funds and focusing on playing music is not easy and we hope to get a deal for our third CD. We are looking for deals now. However, if we don't find something to our liking, we will do what we've done in our two recordings, finish the project ourselves. We have our sites on 2008 as the year we go into the studio. Let me make something clear… keep in mind that Rhythmic Reflections, which was released in 2004 was picked up by "Zoho Music" which is a NYC based jazz label. The recording was then re-released in 2005 with the title of "Haitian Creole Jazz". This CD targeted the mainstream jazz & world music scene. Our focus was to bring our music beyond the Haitian community. Promotion wise, this deal helped us out. The deal opened a lot of doors for the band and gave us good exposure.

Karijazz: How is Mozayik being affected by the absence of your pianist, Welmyr Jean-Pierre?

Gashford G: Mozayik was greatly affected because Welmyr is a founding member and we've done so much together. The guys were shocked… However, due to the nature of the charges, it was hard for us to discuss. It's as if everyone kept their deeper feelings to themselves. Speaking for myself, I felt extremely angry and hurt at the same time. I'm angry because Welmyr never said anything to me about what he was going through or the possibility of him being put away for a while. We did two Haiti trips without him but he never gave us details as to why he could not leave the country. We knew it was a legal issue.

Our last gig together was on May 12, 2007 in Massachusetts. I shared a room with him and he had plenty of time to tell me something. After all I've known him for over sixteen years. When we came back to NY, I could not reach him for over a week. Markus got a call from a family member that Welmyr would be going away, but he did not get much details. It was a big question mark for us. The word out there was that he was out of the country on music business. That's what I was told but, it did not make sense due to the fact Welmyr could not leave the country when he was with the band. He would have told us he could travel. I had my suspicions that something was up, but I took the family's word for it. It was not until two months later, I found out what happened to him, and I found out the same way everyone else in the community did. Through the Internet... This was a big shock for me and very painful. When I read the public's response to what was released on the web, the things they were saying was so difficult for me to digest. I did not know what to think and I had no way to defend Welmyr or give him the benefit of the doubt. [tearing]. This is extremely difficult for me to discuss but I guess if I plan to fully accept these events and start the healing process and move on, I need to let these things out… NEXT PAGE ...

Karl Joseph
December 15, 2007

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