Vocalist Anaïs Maviel has been an exciting and unique new presence on the Brooklyn/New York scene over the past few years. Since arriving, her fearless approach to performance has made her an in-demand musician in a number of innovative ensembles, most notably William Parker’s Martin Luther King Project, Parker’s Plaza Band, Dave Ruder’s The Gentleman Rests, Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson’s A Mother’s Lament, Matt Lavelle’s 12 Houses, Patrick Breiner’s Red Metal, and a number of other groups. Breiner praised her participation in his ensemble by stating, “She gives everything to the people and the world around her.”
Maviel’s early experiences on stage with her Haitian mother Joyshanti provided her first taste of music’s transformative power. She studied vocal jazz and Brazilian percussion in Paris and then deepened her learning through travels in Haiti. Encouraged by mentors Nicole Mitchell, Jen Shyu, and Ernest Dawkins, she first came to New York to study with Kris Davis, Gerald Cleaver and Tony Malaby, among others. A graduate of Paris Diderot University in Aesthetics, her research focused on creative music as Utopian alternative politics for social change. She is involved in Harriet’s Apothecary as a sound healer, and is working on a solo voice & percussion, ‘hOULe’ to be release early 2016 on Gold Bolus in collaboration with visual artist My Lê Chabert, & on an international multimedia & variable geometry Triple Trio – in collaboration with visual artsist Léa Lanoë.
Here is a video of one of her performances from 2014 that displays her abilities and aesthetics as a musician:
- Wednesday, October 7 (8pm): Anaïs Maviel Solo at Brooklyn Song Carnival at Panoply Performance Laboratory
- Saturday, October 10 (9 pm): Patrick Breiner’s Red Metal at New Revolution Arts (7 Stanhope St, Brooklyn)
- Saturday, October 17 (8 pm): Yulsman-Maviel at Firehouse Space (246 Frost St, Brooklyn)
- Sunday, October 18 (5:30 pm): Hardy-Maviel-Murchison at 659 East 2nd St, Brooklyn (house concert)
Cisco Bradley: What was your first experience with creative music?
Anaïs Maviel: Well, earlier as a musician I felt like I had to get into a long inquiry before I could start playing who I am, or “free”. I first experienced creative music as a listener – Ella Fitzgerald “Live at Newport” improvises on Airmail Special free as hell, or paradise, then William Parker “Double Sunrise Over Neptune” got me in the same kind of everyday obsessive listening. Of course, through live shows I found my transcendences. As I was studying jazz at the conservatory and felt stranded – I got into aesthetics research, my subject was Music & Utopia, I wanted to prove how essential and vital creative music is for contemporary “Creole” (not quite post-colonial) society: I was trying to articulate a work that I wasn’t even happening yet – which is making the music, in relation with the world. After a few shy attempts with free improvisation, I met Nicole Mitchell (I was trying to go study with the AACM in Chicago) who simply came to my tiny room in Montmartre and played with me for two hours: ” (at least) you have your sound” she said afterwards – that was good to hear, as I could sense how blessed I was to have shared the sonic space with such a master. And she encouraged me to explore the infinite possibilities of my instrument.
Cisco Bradley: What artists or projects that you have worked with here in New York City have had the deepest impact upon you? How would you describe such influences?
Anaïs Maviel: One significant thing I got aware of being here is the responsibility of the musician to hold a sacred space for deep human values to be shared, acknowledged, celebrated, empowered: I learnt this alongside many people, including poet & musician William Parker & queer healers collective Harriet’s Apothecary.
Cisco Bradley: What aspects of healing in William Parker’s work have you found to be most inspiring and transcendent?
Anaïs Maviel: I feel that William is operating at a level that is sacred, and brings each musician he works with in this reality – the ‘tone world’. Healing is the first thing William talked about when I first went to his house. Here’s my understanding of his words: We musicians deal with a very sensitive zone of the human matter – music has a special power on people’s state of being. And we are responsible to use this towards healing, balancing out fear and despair. What led me to think later: there are ethics that come with the art of producing sounds for others. Sound is so powerful – you know it has this very direct access to emotions in the brain, and physicality through vibrations, that it can be either extremely destructive or creative.
Working with William has been the most uplifting experience I’ve had as a musician, and the more I get into the transcendent experience of music the more I feel humbled: there are some important things to be done in this medium and I am willing to disappear behind beauty to that matter, that manifests way beyond my existence.
Cisco Bradley: Can you tell us more about the work you have been doing with Harriet’s Apothecary?
Anaïs Maviel: First, “Harriet’s Apothecary is an inter-generational, seasonal, healing village led by the brilliance and wisdom of Black Cis Women, Queer and Trans healers, artists, health professionals, magicians, activists and ancestors. Our village, founded by Harriet Tubman and Adaku Utah on April 6 2014, manifests at the bloom of every Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter in Brooklyn. We are committed to co-creating accessible, affordable, liberatory, all-body loving, all-gender honoring, community healing spaces that recognize, inspire, and deepen the healing genius of people who identify as Black, Indigenous and People of color and the allies that love us. In this magnificent collective, I operate as a sound healer and offer a creative circle singing workshop. Blending voices and rhythm is the most elevating communal experience I know of. This sonic exploration is a way to embrace both our truth and other people’s truth within our bodies: if one trusts the essential source of sound, that is life force, then “there is no ugly, only becoming beautiful” (William Parker). Singing in a circle builds an alternative social and creative matrix where tensions are released, and the unresolved, ever-changing flow of music becomes our playground for experimenting self love and collective transformation.
Cisco Bradley: How would you describe your aesthetics as a musician?
Anaïs Maviel: My aesthetics locate somewhere deep in water flows, where things are originally formless, where there is no difference between music and art, between art and life, life and freedom. I aim to express fearlessness, great things that I cannot put into words, relating to multiple layers of reality at the same time. This can take many forms, resemble various aesthetics, & lives in transformation.
Cisco Bradley: What projects are you now leading or co-leading?
Anaïs Maviel: Now I am leading 2 cross-media ensembles, experimenting improvisational and structured figures emerging from long run conversations with artists I collaborate with, such as Daro Behroozi, Pascal Niggenkemper, Jake Sokolov, Claire deBrunner, François Grillot on this side of the Atlantic, and Léa Lanoë, My Lê Chabert, Jalalu-Kalvert Nelson, Leïla Renault, Thomas Letellier, Rafaëlle Rinaudo on the other side. I am interested in the manifestations of chaos and balance in collective conversations, in finding a common ground that allows each singular personality to be embraced. I also focus on the commonality/diverstity of sound, time and space, through everlasting narratives such as cyclic times and birds migration.
I co-lead a few small ensembles, more or less sustainable – gathering beautiful spirits such as Michael Foster, Lathan Hardy, John Murchison, Sam Yulsman, Daniel Carter, Maria Grand, Luke Stewart and Brandon Lopez.
I also love to serve the visions of Dave Ruder (The Gentleman Rests), William Parker (Martin Luther King Project, Plaza Band), Patrick Breiner (Red Metal) & Cooper-Moore (A Moorish Night).
Cisco Bradley: What music will you be presenting in your solo performance at the Brooklyn Experimental Song Carnival on October 7?
Anaïs Maviel: My solo is the space where I can explore my wonderings as an artist, experiment music that I may transcribe to larger ensembles – my solo is an immediate window to the depth of my creative journey. Also, I am staging a conversation with myself, using my voice, but also the different instruments that I’ve been trying to tame: the surdo (brazilian bass drum) & the n’goni (west african bass cora). I have a tricky relation to words, and my solo work also witnesses this sensitive encounter between sound and language. It is improvised music for the largest part and has some toe dipping in performance art, to the extent that I deal with the unexpected moment, space & people impacting the output of my music. Lately I have been looking more into traditional chanting as my musical practice is flirting with transe.
Cisco Bradley: Are there any of the small ensembles that you mentioned that you would like to discuss further? How did those groups form and what do you feel you have done with them so far?
Anaïs Maviel: Well, I’d love to talk about everybody I mentioned – next time. For now I’ll say something about our duo with Michael Foster that has been magically prolific and transformative. As we share a common point of departure – the vulnerability and strength of humans in an instantaneous creative situation – it feels like we organically grow towards letting go all the random wolves and crabs out of our mouth… not that random actually. Another approach could be “It’s like we didn’t try to create anything, we just played the things that are already there” – as Michael was saying after our last show. I find this inquiry very nurturing and I am grateful to be able to explore trust and fear within such intimacy.
Cisco Bradley: Could you talk more about your most productive work with Daro Behroozi, Pascal Niggenkemper, Jake Sokolov, Claire deBrunner, François Grillot. What manifestations of chaos and balance have emerged from these collaborations? How does that relate to the cycles of life that you mentioned?
Anaïs Maviel: These people all have a very strong personality and musical presence, which is an exciting and challenging gift to work with in a large ensemble that I try to shape ‘my way’ somehow… It starts with loving, embracing them as people and musicians. I love to talk or not talk, play and not play with these people, and we are learning trust as we all work from the most tender spots of our craft – with improvisation, but also with my directions. The way we’ve been working was a lot of writing from my end: poetic/symbolic reflexions around time, sound and space. I initiate a conversation around these metaphysical concerns that impact humanity & beauty, togetherness & freedom – how do those thing somehow make find balance, way beyond the schemes of good and bad? How do we move and co-exist towards freedom? How observing the swells of the sea, listening to the rain or contemplating the figures that birds draw in the sky can inform our behaviour towards ourselves and each other?
I love that with all of these musicians I chose to work with, there are strong visions and values that are expressed in lifestyles as well as art making. And those sharp angles are also what I love to confront in the bandleading journey: I love to work with this heterogenous and complex human material. It is so interesting to work with such honest artists. Also with my dear friend Léa Lanoë – who’s contributing the video work to the ensemble – we’ve discussed the intersection of art and life to a point that we could keep working together in long distances, which made me understand that the nature of my work reveals in travels, delays and displacements. So I also developed some similar work back to France, working on the same ideas, hoping to cross both ensembles one day. The triple trio’s first attempt can be seen and heard here.
Cisco Bradley: You are both a performer and an academic. In what ways do you see creative music as utopian alternative politics for social change?
Anaïs Maviel: I believe art that matters has a vital function in society – that is why I am interested in various traditional music: they carry this essential quality that is meant to transform people’s lives from within, in the collective experience of ritualistic art forms. “Utopia” is the subversive word that I found to challenge the corrupted word “politics”, not that it can replace it. Utopia reminds us of the so called “impossible” of dreams and hope. But I learnt form Creole cultures – which gave birth to jazz wonder children – that art is one of the rare ways to overcome “impossible”, to articulate “freedom” in a mindset that is not allowing it. This is how the legacy of utopic art can move than ever challenge post-modern blasé politics & aesthetics, because freedom only needs a slight shift in people’s ability to sense and grasp it.
Cisco Bradley: Can you give an example of freedom you have experienced from music-making in your own life?
Anaïs Maviel: As you seek freedom in music practice, you somehow learn to tame it’s qualities within yourself, and realize it is not so wild or contradictory with the rest of the world. Freedom could be stillness, or silence. It could be right here beneath your feet, not that long of a trip to brush against and cultivate. Freedom may run like water, but I can grasp it as soon as I give up looking for it on the furthest shores. I even suspect it to be co-existent with structure. As far as everyday life, I feel that music is a liberating teacher, just as any other activity you devote yourself to, with passion and faith. I feel free when I learn to open up, which is contagious, and dangerously beautiful.
–Cisco Bradley, October 5, 2015