Mélissa Laveaux was raised in Ottawa by Haitian parents, and grew up with an awareness of her heritage.
Recently returning to Haiti for the first time since she was 12, the experience was overwhelming, with the island's rich history and dense array of cultures proving to be irresistible.
These sights and feelings penetrate new album 'Radyo Siwèl', a rightly praised document overseen by production team A.L.B.E.R.T. and released on No Format.
Out now, Mélissa Laveaux will re-visit the material - along with other selections from her work - at a special show this month for the EFG London Jazz Festival.
Clash caught up with Mélissa to discuss her cultural curiosities...
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An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim
Thea is a friend of Toronto who writes beautiful, but unusual love stories tinted by odd circumstances. She did a 360° by writing speculative fiction with the premise of a love story but it is really about a dystopian future where this woman goes to the future to work as an indentured servant to pay for her sick boyfriend's medical treatment of a disease that is wiping everyone out. When she gets there - the work is not what was promised and she can't find her boyfriend.
The novel is gripping, incisive, very well crafted. She's been shortlisted for Canada's Giller Prize so I am really happy to toot my friend's horn and tell more people about this insanely good book.
How to write an autobiography by Alexander Chee
This man is a witch and a beautiful writer and it's the best thing to take on tour. Short essays about his amazing life so far and the magic he catches in the tiniest of moments. It reminds me to pay very close attention - to everything. Easy if you have ADHD.
Recently I really enjoyed watching the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. They went completely the other way of the wholesome teenage sitcom I used to watch in high school starring Melissa Joan Hart. The witches in here actual devil worshippers and high school can be deadly. I love any horror that includes the occult because I was raised Catholic so my innate Catholic guilt causes me to swarm towards the very things that my mom told me were "wrong". It was so entertaining to watch - I wanted to binge through a whole weekend but unfortunately had pesky social commitments...
Wanderlust took me by surprise. I love anything with Toni Collette in it but the episode that focuses entirely on the work of Sophie Okonedo as the Collette's character's therapist was by far my favorite episode of the whole season. Why are British shows so short on episodes? Six episodes is not long enough!
Insecure and the Chi are two black American shows I intensely enjoy because of the extreme laughter I get from the former (especially the character of Kelli, written and portrayed by Natasha Rothwell is a treasure), and the intense emotional depth I get from the latter (Lena Waithe is a genius and I will watch anything she puts in front of my screen). Samin Nosrat's Fat Acid Salt Heat has made me situate cooking high-quality meals for myself as an act of radical self-care back into my life. It also reminded me that I come from farming families and certain things my parents would teach me about food, waste and land.
I recently loved watching Twenty Feet From Stardom because I've always been curious about what it would be to peel back from the limelight... and honestly I could not do it. Backup singers are the backbone of the industry, they elevate any song - on a recording, live. It's really tough work and that film taught me how to appreciate another form of women's work that is not often spoken of.
When I want a cosy day in bed, I tend to watch old favourites like The Hours, but I'm definitely a horror fan and I'm looking forward to the remake of Suspiria with Thom Yorke's soundtrack. I already love watching films about dance but to combine that with horror is just brilliant (see the Black Swan)...
I was recently joking with my UK PR agent that Love Actually is one of my favourite, heavily problematic, Christmas movies. The other one is the Sound of Music. However, Love Actually, from the point of view of a Canadian features every male British character archetype (the stuttering charming guy, the dorky underdog, the very unappealing and sexually explicit guy that still gets the girl...). It also features some of my favorites (Emma Thompson forever).
If I need to calm down, meditate and read my tarot cards, I'll listen to Alice Coltrane. She's also great at making often emotionally brutal plane rides smooth. Leikeli47 is my favourite MC at the moment. I love how unapologetic she is. I love the minimal crooked beat and sexually-explicit topics. Lizzo is also an MC but also a flutist and a soulful singer. One of Prince's last protégées. Her music is so uplifting, funny, invigorating and full of self-love.
One of my favorite guitarists is Annie Clarke/St Vincent. I have really enjoyed watching the way her music has changed throughout the years and highly varying album styles. She doesn't steer away from complicated lyrics in her version of pop. No compromise and yet still accessible to a wide audience. Goals.
My Bosu ball because I have no balance and I am so clumsy that I trip over air. It's been helping me get centered and grounded.
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Catch Mélissa Leveaux at Cadogan Hall, London on November 20th as part of the EFG London Jazz Festival.
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