Zili

Zili

 Boston, Massachusetts, USA
BandWorldJazz

All female, and Boston-based, Zili plays New World Soul, roots music of the African diaspora.

Band Press

Reggae On The River Goes International – North Coast Journal

By Maxwell Schnurer

(July 28, 2011) Seun Kuti grew up in the liberated zone of Kalakuta in Nigeria. His father Fela Anikulapo Kuti had declared a small section of the city of Lagos to be an area where good music could be heard, cannabis could be smoked, dissident politics were welcome (so long as you didn’t criticize Fela), and sexuality wasn’t so controlled. Some obvious similarities exist between Kalakuta and the 27-year Reggae on the River concert tradition. At Benbow State Park July 17, headliner Seun Kuti brought this year’s temporary autonomous zone celebrations to a head with his powerful Afrobeat orchestra: Egypt 80.

Kuti’s set was groove central. Drumming anchored by an ever-present wood block player agitated the packed crowd to move. Add in a trap drummer, congas and a giant handcarved drum resting on its side on the stage and you have some sense of the percussive capacity. Backup singers, guitars and bass added their layers. The wall of horns in Egypt 80 provided the musical fabric and fantastic opportunities for solos including some juicy riffs by Kuti himself on saxophone. Kuti shimmied, boogied and undulated across the stage, leading chants and amping up the crowd.

There was no question that Kuti belonged in the headlining spot despite his last name not being Marley — his performance was awesome. There has been a thread of openness to world music and polycultural musical exchange at previous regional reggae festivals. This year it was especially rewarding for many audience members who probably encountered great new music they had never heard before.

I offer up Zili Misik, who gave what I believe to be the best set of the weekend — seven women dressed all in white playing funky Haitian-influenced dance songs. These women produced some great tunes influenced by the music of Haiti, Nigeria, Brazil and Cuba. The percussion was inspirational, the guitar sound was really strong (at one point it could only be described as ‘shredding’), but the horns — two young women who just scorched on the trombone and saxophone (also doubling on percussion) — led the combo to new heights. They were really good, and I hope they get invited back.

Another notable set came at the hands of local roots reggae star Ishi Dube. The SoHum sun shined on the elegant singer as he crooned, chanted and sang to a massive and appreciative crowd. Backed by The Redemption Band, Ishi showed a diverse musical spectrum — running through ska, lovers rock, roots and dancehall tunes during his quick set. Hard working, conscious and charismatic, Ishi’s performance solidified his position as one of Humboldt’s most vital local musicians.

Sila also gave a captivating performance. Led by the stylish Sila Mutunge on vocals, the band positioned trombone and saxophone against riveting electric guitar and a trap drummer who deposited some intense funk bombs while seemingly zoning out on the skyline. Their style was worldly jazz fusion with a Michael Jackson/James Brown-style dancing frontman. The combination was really powerful when the horns, guitar and vocals meshed to make waves of sound.

Roots reggae was well represented. Ky-Mani Marley and “Gramps” Morgan gave the crowd a show filled with reggae classics and did it quite well on the tunes I saw. Edi Fitzroy gave a lovely performance, playing dub-influenced smooth tunes. Bad Brains vocalist Human Rights (H.R.) gave an exceptionally mellow reggae performance with simple lyrics and effusive thanks for the audience in between each song. I caught two or three songs of Annette Brissett’s set — just long enough to wish I’d seen more.

Cool singer J Boog added a very smooth set. Somewhere between lovers rock and R ‘n’ B, but 100 percent enjoyable. Bushman not only had a great sound, but the guitar player elevated the sound of the Redwood stage during his set. Tony Rebel is a star, and always enjoyable to watch. He did some great tunes for the thankful audience, digressing into a couple of quick political discussions about Barack Obama and Sarah Palin.

One of the more bizarre moments happened early on Saturday as Jamaica’s Perfect shared his quirky Rastafarian politics with the crowd. Dressed like Andre 3000 with a head wrap, shiny suspenders, tight pants and an oversized garish tie, Perfect cued up “Free Buju Banton” with suitable buildup while one of his posse modeled a Free Buju shirt. It seemed like a strange place to take a stand. Buju is, of course, the embattled gruff-voiced dancehall singer who is currently in jail for attempting to sell a federal agent more than five kilos of cocaine.

Aside from Perfect, most of the politics expressed from the stages at the festival were vague affirmations of love, family and Jah. Which makes sense. The shift to Benbow coincided with the return to a certain amount of family friendly community. There was a kids area, along with lots of kids, quite a few vendors, loads of food booths, and drinking confined to the beer gardens. Not

New Kids, New Format Lift BMAs – Boston Globe

MUSIC REVIEW
New Kids, new format lift BMAs

(photo caption says "Afro-Caribbean group Zili Misik, which won outstanding international music act, was the life of the Boston Music Awards party on Sunday. (Justine Hunt/ Globe Staff)")

By Jonathan Perry, Globe Correspondent | December 9, 2008

Despite being revamped for its 21st birthday, for a moment Sunday night, the Boston Music Awards felt decidedly old school - more 1988 than 2008. That instant came when New Kids on the Block - yes, those NKOTB - won the award for national act of the year. As two of the all-grown-up Kids, Donnie Wahlberg and Jordan Knight, took the podium on the Roxy stage, the air around them seemed a little surreal.

"We haven't had one of these in a long time," cracked Wahlberg. Twenty years ago, he recalled, the Kids were nominated for a Grammy - and lost to Milli Vanilli. "We'd rather have this any day," he said.

With a few catcalls ringing out from the competition - namely hip-hop artist Termanology's posse, who shouted "Who the [expletive] is that?" when the New Kids (and anybody else who was up against the Lawrence-bred rapper) were announced as winners, Wahlberg broke into a grin and pointed to the source of the taunts. "He's got it next year," Wahlberg said.

When you're part of a group that sold 70 million albums and is in the midst of a highly successful reunion tour, you can afford to be generous. And in fact, Termanology did nab the award for outstanding hip-hop act, and subsequently performed a rousing set to demonstrate why.

Award ceremonies can bring out the best - and worst - in people. MC and former WBCN program director Oedipus said that by eliminating acceptance speeches there would be no "drunken rambling" or other embarrassments. Nevertheless, "Music Drives Us" founder and automotive mogul Ernie Boch Jr. launched into some expletive-laden rambling about his band, Ernie & the Automatics, not winning outstanding blues act (which went to pianist David Maxwell) before presenting the newly created Humanitarian of the Year award to Chad Stokes Urmston.

Much has been made about the BMAs' move from the Orpheum Theatre to the Roxy (with nominee performances also taking place at Pearl and the Underbar) - and about the ceremony becoming an industry event rather than a public one, but on Sunday, what ultimately stood out was the music. The set lengths - expanded from a one-song-and-out format to roughly 25 minutes per artist - offered a substantive taste of each of the 10 nominees who performed.

Scituate-bred country traditionalists Girls Guns & Glory, which won local act of the year and outstanding Americana act of the year (its second time winning the latter), delivered a rollicking, revved-up set of honky tonk. The eight-piece Afro-Caribbean outfit Zili Misik, named outstanding international music act, was the undeniable life of the party: infectiously upbeat brass, rhythm, and groove. Outstanding rock act winners Wild Light, from New Hampshire, waved an indie-rock banner built on angular chords and strident melodies. The half-empty dance floor and thinning crowd didn't seem to faze them.

Marissa Nadler, who was named outstanding singer-songwriter, was as ghostly a presence as her haunted songs. "I never won anything in my life!," the shocked Needham native blurted out before picking up a 12-string guitar. "Give me a second to tune and I'll play you the saddest song you ever heard." And then she did.

Rhythm queens: The educational ecstasy of Zili Misik – The Boston Phoenix

by Matt Parish|October 21, 2009

It’s a chilly Monday afternoon, and at the head of the lawn in front of the Christian Science Center, Zili Misik are starting soundcheck, bear-hugging their instruments to keep them warm. The trombone player has mittens on, and I doubt it’s the kind of day those hand drums had in mind when they got packed away this morning.

“On days like this, my hands get so numb, it feels like I’m playing these drums with rocks,” says head Zili Kera Washington. “It makes me wish I’d learned the piccolo.” Not the default circumstances for a band who draw so heavily from sunny Afrobeat and Brazilian sources — but, being rooted in New England, they’re used to it by now.

Washington and I dash across the street to grab coffee and get in from the wind. I ask whether she prefers audiences of seasoned enthusiasts or the blank slates of random passers-by. “Everything has its place. In Boston, it’s very diverse, and there’s always someone who comes up after the show and says, ‘I haven’t heard that rhythm in years.’ Now if we’re in somewhere like Ohio, it’s more like this” — she flashes a deer-in-the-headlights look. “But that’s fine. Everyone comes to us from different places.”

Washington began her career after jumping ship from a Wellesley biology program in the ’90s and diving headlong into drumming, learning on Haitian rada drums and joining up with a booming scene of local Haitian bands like Batwel Rada and Tjovi Ginen. “We played at the Middle East a lot. We practiced at an old warehouse rehearsal space for poor artists at Fenway that got replaced by expensive new buildings. Those were good times, but it was always, ‘You’re pretty good for a girl.’ I finally decided I wanted a world-music band that was full of people with fierce skills who happened to be women.”

Over the past nine years, that idea has been realized in the eight-woman squad of Zili Misik, who specialize in an intense blend of Afrobeat polyrhythms and far-flung sounds drawn from Washington’s continued studies, which have included trips to Haiti, Ghana, and Cuba and a PhD program in ethno-musicology at Brown. Multiple Phoenix Best Music Poll and Boston Music Award winners, Zili Misik have played every weekend for the past three months, from club shows to coffee shops, lectures to brunches.

The Christian Science Center affair is not exactly a home-team kind of show. “This one’s from a place called Cape Verde,” Washington announces. The crowd settles into a cozy lunch-break hibernation while Zili Misik cook through a grocery list of grooves and solos. “You’ll get warmer if you dance,” she advises. A trio of five-year-olds take heed.

But that’s just the warm up. A few hours later, we’re in the middle of a set opening for R&B-from-space sensation Zap Mama at the Paradise — where the listeners are somewhat savvier. Fans pile into the room, speaking a mishmash of languages, dancing and shouting replies to every accent off Washington’s drums. These folks came to get down.

On stage in matching white-linen outfits, the musicians move almost martially, from stomping beats to grueling spirituals and lithe, wiggling dances with transitions that mash up time signatures as if they were skipping backward up an escalator. And Washington is no longer the mild-mannered stateswoman of earlier in the day. She’s a nasty drummer to begin with, but deep into the show, she starts channeling her inner priestess, calling for justice and love and letting loose a guttural rallying cry for everything from Roxbury and Mattapan to Santiago and Jerusalem. Second vocalist Radjulari belts out diva choruses with disorienting volume, and the band’s crooked breakdowns start and stop like precision machinery. They’re in full-on attack mode.

I had asked Washington before whether they tailor shows for audiences. Sometimes, it turns out, political lyrics are altered for children’s performances; sometimes there’s some exposition to help people along; sometimes they just roll through four hours of music at gigs like their residency at the Beehive. Anyone can enjoy them, so they’ll play for anyone.

“My teacher said there are three levels to learning,” Washington explains. “Bosal, kanzo, and then you’re a master. You can’t start at bosal and know everything — so we can’t expect listeners to approach us all from the same level.”

25 Most Stylish Bostonians of 2009 -- Zili Misik – Boston Globe

By Meaghan Agnew
Globe Correspondent / November 5, 2009

Names: Kera Washington, Rajdulari, Joy Roster, Lexi Havlin, Joanna Maria, JoBeth Umali, Kana Dehara, Stephanie Baird, Koko Sato

Occupation: Members of Zili Misik, all-female world music group

Ages: Range from 23 to 37

Tell me how the all-white clothing concept began. Umali: We used to wear all black when I started, and then we started wearing different colors. We would experiment with orange, green, purple, with white pants.

Havlin: We didn’t look so uniform. People would make comments that we didn’t look put together. We would get into long arguments or discussions about what to wear.

Umali: When we’d wear orange and white, people would say, “Oh you look like a cruise ship band.’’

Washington: I think we decided from the beginning that we should have a look. All-white worked very well, and it’s also a very spiritual color. In Haiti - a lot of the songs that we play have root in Haitian music - white is a beginning color. It’s unifying. In other cultures, when you go through an initiation, like a rebirth, white is the color you wear. It helps your insides be expressed.

Right now, all of you are dressed completely differently. Washington: That shows you the depth of our compromise.

Onstage, how does each of you express your individual style? Rajdulari: I think accessories really bring it out. Shoes and the way we wear our hair, and what we choose to wear. Sometimes I rebel and put a big red flower in my hair.

Washington: It’s just like in our music, where everybody has to be able to express themselves, everybody’s got to be able to rock, everybody’s got to play their instrument like they’re not scared.

An all-white ensemble is just a recipe for disaster. Have you had any mishaps?

Umali: It happens.

Havlin: One time when JoBeth was dancing, she got grass stains on herself.

Rajdulari: I remember being on tour and walking precariously over the snow with our white stuff on hangers (mimes carrying hangers high above her shoulders) trying to keep everything from getting messed up.

Washington: I genuinely have gotten more familiar with Oxiclean. That stuff works. We’d be happy to do a commercial for them.

Harmonic convergence Meet one of Boston's hottest bands: Zili Misik, an all-female collective on a musical mission inspired by Haiti – Boston Globe

By James Reed
Globe Staff / March 9, 2010

CAMBRIDGE — There’s scarcely enough room for the band on a recent Friday night at the Lizard Lounge, and that’s before it even takes the stage. The cozy club is nearly full, and when the eight members of Zili Misik cluster around their instruments, it’s clear that their music and stage presence would feel outsize even in an arena.Zili Misik - which derives its name from Ezili, a spiritual entity from the country that gives the band its heartbeat, Haiti - is unlike any other act in Boston. From its visual aesthetic (members often match in elegant white linen) to its pan-global palette to its rallying cry for social justice, the band offers a feast for the senses. A trombone and saxophone might blare in tandem as an electric guitar cuts into the mix, before the group’s leader, tossing her long dreadlocks that tumble halfway down her back, takes the lead on hand drums.

The last thing you’d probably notice, or at least dwell on, is also the most obvious: Zili Misik is made up exclusively of female musicians representing various ethnicities. It’s a fleeting observation but one that has given the band a sense of purpose, a mission statement.

“Zili came out of necessity,’’ Kera Washington, who founded the group in 2000, says recently over dinner in Jamaica Plain, not far from her home. “I was in some pretty amazing bands before this, and every time I was the only woman on an instrument - besides voice and dancing. After every show, people would come up to me and say, ‘That was great for a girl.’ Or, ‘God, I’ve never seen a girl play like that.’ I just got sick of hearing that.’’

She figured the best way to counter that narrow-mindedness was to start her own band, which she initially christened Zili Roots with a focus on Haitian music. A decade and multiple personnel changes later, the group is finally on the ascent, and in the context of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, its music feels more relevant than ever.

“Haiti is in my heart most strongly because I’ve been there,’’ Washington says, referring to trips that have coincided with her academic background in ethnomusicology. “We hear so much about what Haiti doesn’t have, what Haiti has lost. It’s important, especially for us in the United States, to talk about what Haiti has given and continues to give us.’’

Washington notes, however, that Zili is not a Haitian band. For starters, no one in the group is of Haitian descent, a point that Washington considers inconsequential. “The question I’m asked most often is, who’s Haitian? Oftentimes people think I am, and I have to clearly say, I’m a proud African-American woman, but I definitely feel a close connection to Haiti and don’t think you have to be Haitian to feel that.’’

Washington’s love of Haiti goes back to her college days at Wellesley, where she befriended a Haitian professor who eventually taught her the art of hand drumming. Since then, she has made sure she gives back to Haiti, and Zili has worked tirelessly since the earthquake to raise awareness and funds for relief efforts.

“We were involved in the Haitian community before, but now every week we’re doing something that’s a benefit,’’ Washington says. In addition to shows this weekend - Friday at Cabaret in Lexington and Saturday at the Beehive - the band has a full schedule of upcoming events posted on its website, www.zilimisik.com.

As busy as the band is these days, the local music scene was slow to embrace Zili until a few years ago. The ensemble won its first Boston Music Award in 2008 for best international act and later garnered accolades in the Phoenix’s Best Music Poll determined by readers. Still, along with Debo Band, the JP-based group that plays traditional Ethiopian music, Zili is one of the city’s most singular entities.

“The fact that we formed here is important to our identity as a Boston band, but it’s hard to know where we fit,’’ Washington admits. “Boston hasn’t exactly heard before what we’re doing, and we’re so weird. How do you even describe the music?’’

In concert, Washington is fond of calling it “roots music of the African diaspora,’’ but that doesn’t take into account the rhythms the band culls from the Caribbean to Cape Verde. Washington toyed with the idea of branding it “new world soul,’’ which was also the title of the band’s first album, back when Washington was struggling to find Zili’s identity.

Like the current incarnation, the group was first comprised of women, before another lineup change made it a co-ed band for about two years. But something was off with men in the group. Washington eventually realized that she could have the musicianship she wanted with fellow females.

In 2006, she posted a Craigslist ad and was heartened when it got some bites from guitarist Lexi Havlin, a Berklee student at the time, and later bassist Joanna Maria. The lineup has been mostly stable since then, though longtime lead singer Rajdulari left Zili last mon

Boston's best music: World, Jazz & Folk Our critics' picks for the best of 2010 – Time Out Boston

Zili Misik
Zili Misik, a veritable Benetton ad of female musicians, has been providing Bostonians with an exuberant blend of Brazilian, Haitian and Afro-Cuban sounds since 2000. Recognition of their talent was initially slow, but in the past few years the accolades (a 2008 BMA for best international act, for example) have begun to roll in, and their profile has risen, having performed with such luminaries as Tony Brown, Queen Ifrica and Shaggy. Haiti has given them much, including a name–“Zili” is a derivative of Ezili, the Haitian goddess of love—and the group is adamant about giving back. This year’s Project Misik saw the group running music workshops on the island and donating instruments to children in Mirebelais, a city whose population has swelled in the wake of January’s disaster.— Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong

Music From the African Diaspora – Color Lines, www.colorlines.com, Julianne Ong Hing

Featured in March/April 2008 issue
Zili Misik is not for the faint of heart. This Boston-based
band plays joyful, boisterous songs that transport listeners around
the world in a couple of bars. On “Praia,� from their first full-length
album New World Soul, a brisk and cheerful guitar echoing the
songs of West Africa gives way to a jazz-inflected trumpet’s soliloquy.
Interspersed throughout are tight vocal harmonies, and layered
beneath the song is an infectious Brazilian rhythm.
This is typical of Zili Misik’s music–free but focused compositions
of both original and traditional folk songs that draw on the musical
traditions of the vast African diaspora. Percussionist and Zili Misik
founder Kera Washington describes the resulting sound as “this
undefinable genre of music.� The generic umbrella term of “world music�
doesn’t aptly describe the blend of genres and cultures, and Washington
appreciates that audiences can recognize Trinidad, the Congo and
gospel music in their songs. “It’s important for us to pay respect to our
cultural influences,� she says.
The eight-woman, multiracial band formed in 2004, naming
themselves after “Ezili,� the mother, lover and warrior goddess in the
Haitian Vodun spiritual tradition. The name is a fitting one since the
group sings in English, Haitian Kreyol, Portuguese and Spanish about
self-actualization and unity. It’s an eclectic but surprisingly uncluttered
sound. By playing music that retains the cultural integrity of its many
roots, Zili Misik has resisted devolving into just another jam band. â– 
www.zilimisik.com
—Julianne Ong Hing

Best World Music In Boston: Zili Misik – The Boston Phoenix, May 8, 2008, Jon Garelick

The all-female, Berklee-bred octet Zili Misik claim as parts of their mix “Haitian mizik rasin, Jamaican roots reggae, Brazilian samba, Afro-Cuban son, African-American spirituals, jazz, blues, and neo-soul.” In other words, “disaporic rhythm and song.” Such a fusion can easily turn into an indistinct mish-mash of styles — a kind of “smooth” world. But Zili Misik — they take their name from the Haitian female spirit Ezili — never dilute their sound. This is in part because leader/vocalist/percussionist Kera Washington writes such strong, distinctive pieces and also because of the talent of the band’s individual players — guitarist Lexi Havlin gives a Santana-like bite to her improvisations and trumpeter Krystal Johnson, saxophonist Joy Roster, and keyboardist Hinako Sato’s jazz chops cross genres easily. Bassist Joanna Maria and drummer Jobeth Umali establish the authority of every groove they touch — from Afro-Cuban son-montuno to African highlife. Dance rhythms, pop hooks (sung by vocalist/percussionist Rajdulari), jazz improvisation — it’s the kind of sound that’s made them favorites at Ryles and the Beehive.

-Jon Garelick

Mystical Misik: Zili find that rare spiritual groove – Boston Metro, April 20, 2007

PROFILE. When people speak of their music as a 'feel' thing, it usually sounds so pretentious that the only thing you 'feel' is your eyes rolling at their audacity. But it's simply not possible to describe Zili Misik's music without detailing how much of a 'feel' thing it is.

Sure, the facts are interesting enough to make the band unique: eight Boston-based women of various ethnicities who play hybrids of Haitian, Brazilian and West African rhythms with melodies from African-American
spirituals, blues, jazz and soul. But when they play, their music produces that rare, euphoric, on-the-brink-of-tears emotional
outpouring that is this �feel� thing.
Drummer JoBeth Umali experienced it the first day she tried out for the band.
'I get goosebumps,' she says, as the rest of the band let out a unanimous 'aww.' She's obviously not alone.

'I just scream sometimes,' says sax player Joy Roster. And scream she
does. When she's not locked into dizzyingly tight harmonies with trumpeter Krystal Johnson, the zeal of the players can be too much to contain, as they dance in unison side-by-side.

Vocalists and drummers Kera Washington and Rajdulari started the band in 2000. Washington says
the unique energy of Zili's music comes from combining so many different forms. Washington says
she wants people to 'not feel like they just went to see a show but that they
participated in a show.'

Rajdulari explains her take on the proverbial 'feel' thing. 'Music is a form of religion, if I can say that. Coltrane talked about ... how in doing music he
could communicate with God ... and for me I feel like when we play it is a spiritual experience. ... I think that energy pours off the stage and into the crowd so people feel it.'
'Zili Misik'
With Fanny
Friday, 8 p.m.
Berklee Performance Center
136 Mass. Ave., Boston
MBTA: Green Line to Hynes
$15; 617 747-2261
www.berkleebpc.com Zili Misik rocking the Milky Way last weekend.

PAT HEALY
pat.healy@metro.us

Mystical Misik: Zili find that rare spiritual groove – Boston Metro, April 20, 2007

PROFILE. When people speak of their music as a 'feel' thing, it usually sounds so pretentious that the only thing you 'feel' is your eyes rolling at their audacity. But it's simply not possible to describe Zili Misik's music without detailing how much of a 'feel' thing it is.

Sure, the facts are interesting enough to make the band unique: eight Boston-based women of various ethnicities who play hybrids of Haitian, Brazilian and West African rhythms with melodies from African-American
spirituals, blues, jazz and soul. But when they play, their music produces that rare, euphoric, on-the-brink-of-tears emotional
outpouring that is this �feel� thing.
Drummer JoBeth Umali experienced it the first day she tried out for the band.
'I get goosebumps,' she says, as the rest of the band let out a unanimous 'aww.' She's obviously not alone.

'I just scream sometimes,' says sax player Joy Roster. And scream she
does. When she's not locked into dizzyingly tight harmonies with trumpeter Krystal Johnson, the zeal of the players can be too much to contain, as they dance in unison side-by-side.

Vocalists and drummers Kera Washington and Rajdulari started the band in 2000. Washington says
the unique energy of Zili's music comes from combining so many different forms. Washington says
she wants people to 'not feel like they just went to see a show but that they
participated in a show.'

Rajdulari explains her take on the proverbial 'feel' thing. 'Music is a form of religion, if I can say that. Coltrane talked about ... how in doing music he
could communicate with God ... and for me I feel like when we play it is a spiritual experience. ... I think that energy pours off the stage and into the crowd so people feel it.'
'Zili Misik'
With Fanny
Friday, 8 p.m.
Berklee Performance Center
136 Mass. Ave., Boston
MBTA: Green Line to Hynes
$15; 617 747-2261
www.berkleebpc.com Zili Misik rocking the Milky Way last weekend.

PAT HEALY
pat.healy@metro.us

Global Boston – WCVB-TV Boston Chronicle

12/09/04;8/17/05
"zili" featured in television story on Boston's vibrant immigrant communities and music (video upon request)

Deep roots give Zili Misik s music strength – The Boston-Bay State Banner

The Boston-Bay State Banner
August 3, 2006 Vol. 41, No. 51
Arts & Entertainment Section
by Brigit Brown

The dynamic Zili Misik is an eclectic seven-piece all-female ensemble performing a tapestry of African-descended music forms rooted in the spirituals, blues, jazz, neo soul, Afro-Cuban son, reggae, roots, Afro-Brazilian samba and Haitian mizik rasin. Taking their name from the Haitian spiritual entity �Ezili,� which stands for mother, lover and warrior, there is no other American band performing the type of music that Zili creates.

Kera M. Washington, an ethnomusicologist and educator in the Boston Public Schools, Northeastern University and Wellesley College, founded Zili Misik. As the composer and arranger of most the songs for Zili, Washington was a semi-finalist in the 2001 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz International Hand Drumming Competition and plays an array of percussion, including Caribbean and West African instruments, flutes and African harps.

Zili consists of the charismatic Rajdulari on the lead vocals, Joy Roster on the saxophone, Hayoung Noh on the keyboards, Lexi Havlin on the guitar, Joanna Maria on the bass, JoBeth Umali on the drums and Washington on the percussion and vocals. They deliver pure music artistry with a highly accomplished and professional approach, which has afforded them the opportunity to perform at the Milky Way in Jamaica Plain, Slades in Boston, Johnny D�s in Somerville, Paradise Lounge in Allston, the Cambridge Carnival, Artisans World Gallery in Cambridge, the JP World�s Fair and the Boston Mayor�s Arts Festival. Most recently they had the honor of opening for the Grammy-nominated traditional Haitian music band Boukman Eksperyans at the Mirage Club in Boston. Zili is on the rise and while performing at the Salem Cultural Festival this past Saturday, we got the opportunity to catch them in their ascent.

How did Zili Misik come about?
The band started under the influence of two local bands, Sistahs of the Yam and Batwel Rada. The members of Zili came together to combine the idea of bringing the music of the Caribbean, the African continent and of the United States together into an exquisite musical package that included a political message and presented a positive example of what female musicians can do when they work together.

Can you please describe your music?
Each song is different. We term our music �roots music of the African Diaspora.� That is music that evokes the African continent and retraces routes of forced exile and cultural resistance through rhythm and song. Because we have so many influences, it is hard to give one description of our music. Our lyrics combine English, Krey�l, Portuguese, Spanish, Palestinian Arabic and some Swahili. Zili�s songs are sensual, political, self-reflective, positive and invoke love. Also, Zili is not complete without dance; sometimes, we perform with Haitian master drummer and choreographer Peniel Guerrier and his Ziboula Haitian dance ensemble. Currently, we are seeking more permanent dancers.

Who or what are your musical influences?
The music of Zili Misik is about reconnection. We want to bridge cultures, generations, continents. We are all female because of artists like Sweet Honey in the Rock, Zap Mama, Women of the Calabash, Terry Lynne Carrington and Meshell Ndegeocello. We are also inspired by the music of Boukman Eksperyans, Olodum, Machata and we are descendents of local artists, Sistahs of the Yam, Tjovi Ginen and Batwel Rada.

How important is it to be a member of an all-female band?
Everybody in this band can solo, can improvise, can throw down, and we can also do it as women and that is what�s powerful to us. For this reason, it is important for us to help women realize that they can do whatever they want whether they are tall, skinny, fat or whatever. Oftentimes women are supporting the male musicians in a band but we want to show women creating music on their own, rather than being objectified or looked at as the backups. We want women to know that they can control their own image of themselves.

Do you have a CD release scheduled?
We have an EP CD available now, which we are selling to fund our full length CD, to be recorded in August. We will be performing at Slades in September, and plan to have our self-titled CD available at that performance.

What should we expect to hear on that CD?
It is music to make you dance! It combines new arrangements of some of the songs that we started with as �Zili Roots� (our former name) and some songs that the new band has written together.

Do you have any upcoming projects?
We are adding new dimensions to our music, because we want to relocate the audience to new places. We are adding video and dance to our music if there are people interested in working with us, they should feel free to contact us!

Is there an ongoing venue where people can see you and hear your music?
We play at Slades once a month.

Zili Misik Wins Fans, Beats Competition By Staying True – The Boston Bulletin

Volume 1 Number 14
April 19th, 2007

by Peter Van Delft

Zili Misik is a band on a mission.

Formed seven years ago by two of the group's current members, the band has traveled long roads and played in many places along the way, bringing their exuberant and unique musical sound to thousands of eager listeners across the country.

Hailing from such local neighborhoods as Dorchester, Jamaica Plain and Mattapan, among others, the band offers listeners a genre-shattering catalogue of exciting and eclectic musical compositions including Afro-Cuban, Reggae, Afro-Brazillian, Jazz, Brazilian Samba, Blues, Neo-Soul, Spirituals and other works, the wide appeal of which is evidenced by the band�s ever-growing fan base.

That the band's eight members represent a rich, ethnically diverse makeup spanning several continents only adds to the audible flavor of the group's music. And the fact that the group is composed entirely of women is notable only to those with outdated notions about the sexes and people with penchants for marking levels of uniformity.

Of course, if you happened to be one of the other eight bands competing in Berklee College's "Battle of the All-Female Bands," the gender of this particular collection of artists was significant only for the fact that they represented the roadblock you faced in your attempt to win the crown.

Named after the Haitian spiritual entity Ezili, described as a mother, lover and warrior, and invoking the political struggle of forced cultural exile through diasporic rhythm, it seems fitting that the band would excel when challenged.

Having won their way to the finals in a field of nine challengers, Zili Misik sealed the deal with a virtuoso performance worthy of champions.

Though the members of the band had prepared to continue life on their own terms doing what they love, the win was definitely an item placed near the top of their 'to do' list.

"It would be nice," Rajdulari, one of the band's founding members, said of winning the competition in an interview before the final. "We're really happy being able to play our music for the people who come out to support all of the bands, but the win would definitely be nice. We could use the studio time."

As part of the winnings, the band is due to receive 6 hours of studio time at Berklee, open for the groundbreaking all-female band FANNY, slated for honors at the "ROCKGRL Women of Valor Awards" show on April 20th at the Berklee Performance Center - a performance that will be attended by organizers of the Verge College Music Conference. Bands showcased on that night will have the opportunity to be signed by the student organizers for college tours and other events.

According to Kera Washington, the other half of Zili Misik's founding duo, the band's success is predicated on its members' enthusiasm and spirit, not to mention an abundance of talent.

"These women have really stepped up," Washington said. "This is a very talented group and I think we�re really evolving every day. We each bring our own style and musical sensibilities to the mix and I think it works very well together."

While certainly ecstatic about their recent victory, Washington, Radjulari and bandmates Lexi Havlin, Hinako Sato, Krystal Johnson, Joy Roster, Joanna Maria and Jobeth Umali don�t anticipate deviating from the path that brought them to this special place.

"We just want to keep evolving and growing with our music," Washington said. "We definitely intend to keep touring and traveling and working on [our next] album. The thing is, there is such a creative flow when we play our songs that, by the time it gets recorded and we're onto performing it again, it already sounds completely different than what's on the CD. But that's a good thing. The music just keeps evolving."

But the spirit, said Joy Roster, remains a dependable constant.

"In New York [recently], and in the competition, there really was this amazing feeling while we were playing," Roster said. "I think our music really needs that live crowd. We have this kind of spirituality in our music and we really feed off of the audience's call and response. The kind of music that we play really encourages that. I'm not saying that we can't play without an audience, but their energy really takes us to another level."

To learn more about Zili Misik or to hear samples of the band's music, visit www.sonicbids.com/Zili or www.myspace.com/Zilimisik.


The Bulletin Newspapers

Best World Music In Boston: Zili Misik – The Boston Phoenix, May 8, 2008, Jon Garelick

The all-female, Berklee-bred octet Zili Misik claim as parts of their mix “Haitian mizik rasin, Jamaican roots reggae, Brazilian samba, Afro-Cuban son, African-American spirituals, jazz, blues, and neo-soul.” In other words, “disaporic rhythm and song.” Such a fusion can easily turn into an indistinct mish-mash of styles — a kind of “smooth” world. But Zili Misik — they take their name from the Haitian female spirit Ezili — never dilute their sound. This is in part because leader/vocalist/percussionist Kera Washington writes such strong, distinctive pieces and also because of the talent of the band’s individual players — guitarist Lexi Havlin gives a Santana-like bite to her improvisations and trumpeter Krystal Johnson, saxophonist Joy Roster, and keyboardist Hinako Sato’s jazz chops cross genres easily. Bassist Joanna Maria and drummer Jobeth Umali establish the authority of every groove they touch — from Afro-Cuban son-montuno to African highlife. Dance rhythms, pop hooks (sung by vocalist/percussionist Rajdulari), jazz improvisation — it’s the kind of sound that’s made them favorites at Ryles and the Beehive.

-Jon Garelick