NATHALIE JOACHIM WITH SPEKTRAL QUARTET: FANM D’AYITI
Friday, Jan. 10, 8 p.m., $37
UNC’s Moeser Auditorium, Chapel Hill
What are the odds that being a mediocre piano player would introduce you to an instrument that would change your life and career trajectory forever?
For the Brooklyn-born Haitian flutist and composer Nathalie Joachim, life has been full of chance encounters that ultimately led her to her purpose. They include being paired with a music teacher who happened to be a flutist and randomly befriending eventual Flutronix partner Allison Loggins-Hull on MySpace.
Carolina Performing Arts is bringing the Grammy-nominated artist to UNC to perform her evening-length work and album Fanm d’Ayiti, or “Women of Haiti,” with Chicago’s Spektral Quartet on January 10. The project positions Joachim as a cross-cultural voice as she uses her personal experiences to explore her Haitian heritage and mourn the loss of her grandmother. The INDY spoke with her about her rapport with the flute, the influence of her grandmother, and being asked about Lizzo all the time.
INDY: How did your relationship with the flute begin, and were your aspirations always rooted in music?
NATHALIE JOACHIM: The flute came into my life sort of by chance, really. I have always been drawn to music, and I actually played piano first, starting when I was four. And I wasn’t very good at piano. In the fourth grade I had the opportunity to choose an instrument to play. It was really very random. Someone came around to the school and demoed all the instruments, and I came home that day and I told my mom I was going to play the flute.
But I took to the instrument really quickly. It was very clear that I had found my musical voice through that instrument versus the piano, and I was lucky enough to have a band director who was a flutist herself and started giving me mini private lessons once a week during the lunch period at school. Music chose me. It never really even occurred to me to do anything else. It’s the one thing that makes my heart flow. So I’ve been playing music ever since.
What does it mean to you to be a cross-cultural voice?
I don’t know that I always set out to be a cross-cultural voice. This project has certainly introduced that into my artistic arena in a very special way. For me, this project was quite personal. I’m exploring my own heritage, and also I’m mourning the loss of my maternal grandmother, who was very important to me and my life. She was also somebody with whom my relationship was really centered on music. I am really proud of the album, and I’m super proud to be representing our heritage and my family in this way.
“I think my most-asked question in all educational settings this year, by kids of all ages, is, ‘Do you know Lizzo?'”
What is your favorite memory with your grandma?
There are so many. I think grandparents all have their unique way of connecting with their grandchildren. It’s a special relationship, sort of like a bonus relationship they get in their life. I know that my grandma connected with me and all of my siblings in different ways, and our way was really music. That was like our way of telling each other stories. We used to make up songs while we were just sort of hanging out in her yard in Haiti or while cleaning the house. She always really encouraged me to use my voice to tell stories and share what I might otherwise be too shy or scared to share. Those are really my favorite memories with her—just being with her in the sunshine in Haiti, in her yard, smiling and laughing, or spending hours together talking and singing creating together.
With this album, you sought to find out how your voice connected with the voices of other Haitian woman, what your songs said about your past, and what they might mean for the future. Were you able to identify the answers to those personal questions?
I think, in part, yes. What became very clear to me in meeting the Haitian artists that I featured on the record is that I felt deeply connected to them immediately. I think each of us really share this inspiring relationship with music, but also a deep desire to be connected to doing what’s right, not just for me, but for my community and for the people who I love in my life, by creating space for voices, creating space for people to be able to improve their lives, creating space for people to feel empowered. I think that is, in large part, a Haitian way—like, culturally, you would never walk into a Haitian person’s home and not have them offer you something whether it’s food or something they can give you to take. I think that we are a culture of offering. For all of us, these musical offerings are a part of that practice and that tradition.
The anniversary of the historic Haitian Revolution was January 1. How do revolutionary sensibilities show up in your work?
Art as activism is definitely a way I’m participating. I take a lot of pride in using my voice as an artist to connect to history. In doing so, it really allowed me to begin connecting with people in real time, and also gaining a truer understanding of how we’re all connected and how each of us being here impacts one another.
Do you play close attention to the cultural trajectory of the flute, where it shows up outside of classical music?
I guess I’m not really following trends of what’s happening with the flute. Maybe I should have my ear to the ground more seriously. I’m interested right now in my craft. I have really centered this idea of human connectivity and storytelling and exploring history as a way of understanding who we are. I think my most-asked question in all educational settings this year, by kids of all ages, is, “Do you know Lizzo?” And I’m like, “I don’t, but she’s amazing across the board.” Her sense of confidence, body positivity, female empowerment—she’s a force, and I’m here for Lizzo.
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