Monday, January 19, 2015

Rhythm Makers: Local Band Mo' Mojo Embarks on a Tour of Central and South America

Dominican Republic workshop
After touring Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Akron-based zydeco band Mo’ Mojo is ready for another challenge of breaking down language barriers and connecting with the locals through music.

The American Music Abroada program of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, has selected Mo’ Mojo as one of 10 American bands to do a five-week tour of Central and South America. Beginning Jan. 20, Mo’ Mojo will travel to Belize, Panama, Barbados, Mexico and Colombia. In addition to performing public concerts, the band will interact with local musicians, give lectures and take part in workshops with students.

The band, which is preparing to release its fourth album, We All Got the Same, in May, has already visited Haiti and Dominican Republic as part of the program. “Every single time — as soon as that energetic zydeco music started — smiles spread across their face and dancing started,” says Leigh Ann Wise, Mo’ Mojo vocalist and percussionist. “It's kind of what zydeco does universally. It makes you smile and dance — or at least tap your toe — no matter what language you speak and no matter what your social status or ethnic background.” Wise chats with us about dancing and jamming out with Haitians and the upcoming trip. 

CM: What is one of your most memorable moments working with locals in Haiti?

LW: We were giving a workshop for the students at The Haitian-American Institute. ... The music started and they started smiling and moving a little. The big shift came when we asked if they want to learn how to dance the zydeco. It’s a two-step. You know, here in the states if you ask high school students if they want to stand up in front of a crowd and learn a dance, it’s likely — in my experience — you’re going to get a lot of resistance. Not these folks. Half the room jumped up and started dancing. By the end of the song, they were teaching us to dance. It was truly one of my favorite moments yet. 

CM: What did you learn in Haiti?

LW: For me, it was my first real hands-on experience of how music transcends language barriers. When we were learning songs with Ti Coca & Wanga Neges, a popular world-traveling Haitian band, no one in their band spoke English and certainly no one in our band spoke Haitian Kreyol, but we gathered outside and just started playing. They learned one of our songs and we learned one of theirs. And you know what was key? Eye contact. If Ti Coca wanted me to learn a lyric I completely did not understand, he’d just keep singing it and looking me in the eye. 

CM: What are you looking forward to the most about the upcoming trip to Central and South America?

LW: The idea that we get to teach kids, to me, is the most fulfilling way to spend my time. Who gets to travel playing music as a mode of communication? It's such a blessing. I feel honored to be a part of it.

No comments: