by J Pepper
Malou Beauvoir was born in Chicago to Haitian parents, but raised in Long Island while spending summers either in Paris, or in her parents native Haiti. Beauvoir explains; “My father, who desperately loved Haiti, would constantly regale us with stories, then every summer you would go and find yourself on this beautiful island with a whole community of friends and family, and it was such a different life from New York that it really tempted you to stay.” Beauvoir’s new album brings together Haitian Folk with Soul, Hip Hop and Jazz to create a uniquely compelling blend of traditional and contemporary locution.
The songs offer a blend of original compositions, traditional folk tunes and cherished popular Haitian songs. “If you have a voice, it’s to be used to communicate for someone or for something,” Beauvoir says. “It’s great to just sing songs, but we (as a group) wanted to focus our art on bringing about change. I wanted these songs that we grew up with – their values, their principles, the ideas behind them – to become hip, to become accessible to the younger generation so that we can use our own identity to express our frustration, and motivate each of us, as individuals, to bring about change.” The core group of Haitian musicians includes co-producers and instrumentalists Chico Boyer (an activist and community leader who also owns Kamoken Studios) and Cheff Loncher along with acclaimed singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Paul Beaubrun and percussionists Sirgo Decius and Jean Guy Rene. In addition, the band comprised artists from Cuba (pianist Axel Laugart), Japan (pianist Yayoi Ikawa, guitarist Hiroyuki Yamada) and the U.S. (guitarist Jon Gordon, bassist Calvin Jones, and Haitian-American drummer Gashford Guillaume).
Spiritwalker draws its inspiration from several sources. The opener, “Rasenbleman,” written by Haitian actress and singer Toto Bissainte, iconic for her folkloric traditions, finds Beauvoir in fine form. Her voice resonates with commanding resolve, her deeply hued voice is a powerful siren and opening call to what is in store on this magnificent journey. Both traditional songs, “Papa Loko,” invokes the spirit of the first Vaudou priest, a divinely articulated piece modernized with dissonant jazz piano tonality, while “Kouzen” beautifully pays homage to the spirit of the land and the tradition of hard work and agriculture. Treated with a rhythmic, underpinning with a reggae-ish feel, once again Beauvoir lends her powerfully gifted voice to its story.
The album ends with a reprise of “Papa Damballah,” a jazz escapade of the Haitian classic “Papa Damballah” originally recorded for her 2016 album Is This Love and featuring Andy Ezrin (piano), Ben Whitman (drums, percussion), David Finck (bass) and Bobby Mann (guitar).
With a personally inspired album title Spiritwalker is a term that Beauvoir has used to describe herself “I believe that everything in our world has a soul, from the grass to the stones to the air, which all have different energies that find their place and create a balance in the world,” concludes Beauvoir. Spiritwalker offers an eclectic journey and milieu of world-jazz infused songs that ignite the soul and engage the ear. Beauvoir is sublimely talented and Spiritwalker is certainly a tour de force.