How many ways can one five-piece band spell ecstasy? Wesli’s super tight band out of Montreal but with origins in Haiti and Africa took a near sell-out crowd at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs, New York on a cold Sunday night to nirvana. They did it with anthems for survival in a world teetering on political suicide and global annihilation.
Music has its own language, and the message here was universal. This crack band flipped on a dime and had the crowd jumping out of their seats to a blend of Haitian roots music, reggae, and rap tapping into voodoo, rara, Afrobeat and hip-hop.
A world traveler, this was Wesli’s first stop in upstate New York, and he was genuinely moved by a response from fans that was over the top in celebratory exuberance. Again and again, he credited the crowd with being the best he’d ever played to. His band on sax, keyboards, bass, drums and other exotic play things I’d never seen delivered music new to my ears but instantly inviting. Complex but never busy, they came across as an extremely seasoned unit dedicated to escaping gravity and inviting us along for the ride.
“Politics don’t work for us,” he told the crowd. “Our politics are a jam session. We replace politics with love.” This extraordinary performance is an example of superhuman determination and superior musicianship by five musicians and one dancer working off nine microphones and multiple instruments spilling off a stage woefully small to contain such a spontaneous eruption of Haitian and African celebration.
Wesli is one of seven children born to a very poor family that escaped Port-au-Prince in 1991 following a military coup that ended the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
He eventually found a home in Montreal in 2001 and built a career on a musical hybrid that’s earned him awards worldwide. He says he chose Canada as his home because of the country’s open mind. “The way people think. Also, I feel I can make Montreal my new home because there is an openness. People are very welcome, and immigrants get their place. I feel I can be myself here. That’s why I came here.”
Wesli explains the genesis of his stimulating sound. “In the Haitian way of doing music we are thinking the same sadness that we are living out from under colonization. We sing it with happiness because inside of us, we know we are free. The way it’s coming out is very sunny and happy because we have the same words, but we sing it to express and tell our stories in happiness. We turn over the happiness to a good mindset.
“We know who we are. That’s why the happiness comes out of the sadness, and we call it reunion. We are very happy to be who we are. We are happy to tell people our history. We are very happy to share with the world what is good with Haiti. It is our culture. We have a very beautiful society. We have beautiful music and beautiful culture, beautiful places like mountains and beautiful things that people can explore and can find their own soul and connect with us. We look at the future of economic and social freedom.”
Can you be busy and simple at the same time? It seems like an oxymoron, but in one of the most extraordinary nights I’ve spent in six decades of attending shows at Caffe Lena, this crew pulled it off.