Inez Barlatier of Kazoots Talks
Culture, Music and the Future
Photograph by Monica McGivern
Inez Barlatier is a singer, a songwriter, a teacher, and a talented musician. As the lead singer and guitarist of the indie-folk-roots-Haitian band Kazoots, her powerful lyrics and stunning voice draw you in.
Musical from an early age, Inez grew up listening to the sounds of Koleksyon Kazak, the Haitian voodou-jazz ensemble started by her father Jan Sebon in the early 1980s. The band would practice at her childhood home, where time was spent tapping drums, singing and chanting. “One of my first shows, at 12 or 13, was at Tap Tap, with my sister and my father. I would perform backup for him,” she says. “He was the one who really taught me how to perform, how to work the crowd.”
Though music was a constant, it wasn’t until her first visit to Haiti in October of 2010 on a three-week artist exchange led by artist Sanba Zao sponsored by the National Performance Network, that she felt sure music was her calling, “That was the moment that I decided to make my life with music. Music is the one thing that gives me life.”
At the time, Inez had already begun playing music with Jayan Bertrand, lead guitarist and vocalist, whom she had been friends with since childhood. “Jayan’s parents founded Kazak with my dad in college, so we grew up together but we didn’t really starting playing music together until 2009.” Since then, the band has expanded to include Gabriel Norwood on drums, multi-instrumentalist Alexandre Merbouti and Ralph "Rasaje" Jean.
Their sound is a continuation of Kazak, fusing the music of their roots with their interests in world-beat and indie sounds and their Haitian culture. Often, the band mixes Haitian folk songs into their arrangements and the lyrics have political undertones, addressing issues of greed or power.
To Inez, an important aspect of the band is to pay homage to the culture and be a voice for the Haitian people, particularly in the community of Little Haiti. “It is such a culturally rich place, with so much craft, I want to help build it up, for ourselves, for the community, for the people.”
So far her mission has been noticed, the band has already appeared in a documentary chronicling their lives in the neighborhood that premiered at Filmgate in 2014 and just last year worked with filmmaker Vincent Moon, where they acted as liaisons to Little Haiti.
Since then, the band has been on a break, exploring other projects and pursuing passions outside of music, but that will soon come to an end. Kazoots is returning to the studio, to work on a new album and further their sound. “We are recreating our mix with new sounds and new ideas,” she says.
Their influences are varied, from psychedelic-blues to reggae to indie-rock and pop. They have cited artists such as Erykah Badu, the Isley Brothers, Bombino and Grizzly Bear as bands they look to for inspiration.
The Trans Atlantic Festival will be the first time they have performed together on stage in some time, “We haven’t been playing shows lately but when we were asked to perform by the Trans Atlantic Festival, we couldn’t say no. We’ve always wanted to be part of it.” As with every show, they will be debuting new music.
The band’s next performance will be at Zaka Fest, a free all-day festival at the Little Haiti Cultural Center celebrating all things Haitian, connecting the community through arts, music, dance and more.