ALBUM REVIEW: Nathalie Joachim’s ‘Fanm d’Ayiti’

by Peter Tracy

Singer, flutist, and composer Nathalie Joachim. Photo by Josué Azor.

While cooking, walking, tending the garden, or washing clothes, the women of Haiti sing songs. For Nathalie Joachim, a Haitian-American singer, flutist, and composer, her image of Haiti is one of love, beauty, tradition, family, and, perhaps above all, music: it pervades the house after church on Sundays and communicates the stories and traditions of past generations.

On her new album Fanm d’Ayiti, Joachim taps into Haiti’s long musical history through original songs and arrangements of classics by some of Haiti’s legendary women musicians. The resulting compositions engage her Haitian heritage and continue these women’s messages of resilience, love, and hope.

On Fanm d’Ayiti, which is Haitian Creole for “Women of Haiti,” traditional songs are treated in a radically new way, with original arrangements featuring voice, flute, and electronics by Joachim and strings performed by the Chicago-based Spektral Quartet. Woven into the mix are recordings of a Haitian girls’ choir from Joachim’s family home, interviews with some of Haiti’s best-known female voices, and the voice of Joachim’s own grandmother. These elements come together to form something that feels both old and new—a musical language of tuneful songs, folk-style strings, stuttering electronics, and vibrant energy.

The album is set into motion with an arrangement of the song “Papa Loko,” which features fluttering string harmonics, skipping electronic percussion, and a bouncy arpeggiated bassline. This song segues into a recording of the Haitian singer Emerante de Pradines, who speaks about her feeling of unity with all female Haitian artists and leads us into the three-part “Suite pou Dantan,” a heartfelt dedication to the farming village that Joachim’s family calls home. Here, Joachim sings along with the girls’ choir over chaotically exuberant percussion, pairs field recording samples with steady drum tracks, and weaves winding flute melodies through the strings of the Spektral Quartet.

An arrangement of “Lamizè pa dous,” a song of African origin translating to “Poverty is Not Sweet,” gives way to the interlude “Couldn’t Tell Her What To Do,” in which we hear the moving story of the Haitian singer and justice-seeker Toto Bissainthe, as told by her daughter Milena Sandler over swelling string harmonies.

Side B of the album begins with an elegy-like arrangement of the traditional Haitian song “Manman m voye m peze kafe,” which feels almost like a theme and variations or a passacaglia with its continuous bassline, circling strings, and arpeggiating, marimba-like electronics. Two further arrangements of traditional songs follow: the grooving yet plaintive “Legba na konsole” and “Madan Bellegarde,” which features a contrapuntal duet between Joachim and the viola, a contemplative chorale of strings and flute, the voice of Joachim’s grandmother, and scattered blips of electric harmony.

Photo by Josué Azor.

This leads us finally into the interlude “The Ones I Listened To,” in which the voices of Haitian musicians Carole Demesmin, Emerante de Pradines, and Milena Sandler encourage both Nathalie and the listener to pursue their dreams despite hardships, and the title track “Fanm d’Ayiti,” a festive original song celebrating Haiti and its strong women, ending the album on a hopeful note.

It is important to remember that for Joachim and the people of Haiti, many of these songs are an integral part of their culture, traditions, and everyday lives. Joachim has said that songs like “Lamizè pa dous” are not only songs to sing while working, but were used by slaves to communicate with each other in ways that their oppressors couldn’t understand, much like the Negro spirituals of the United States.

In a certain sense, these songs continue to serve that purpose. Many of the Haitian Creole songs on this album were sung by women during the worst periods of intellectual repression and dictatorship in Haiti’s history as a way of maintaining their language and traditions—and it is these subtle acts of subversion that Joachim celebrates in her arrangements. On Fanm d’Ayiti, Nathalie Joachim continues the lineage of Haitian women who bring together communities, pass on their culture, and fight for justice through their music.


Nathalie Joachim’s Fanm d’Ayiti is out August 30 on New Amsterdam Records. For more information, click here.

Amanda Gookin Boldly Goes Forward (2.0)

by Dacia Clay

Amanda Gookin. Photo by Ryan Scherb.

In 2015, Amanda Gookin started a commissioning project called Forward Music Project. It premiered in 2017 at National Sawdust with seven pieces focused on issues that affect women and girls. Two years later, Gookin has returned with Forward Music Project 2.0.

True to its name, the project has taken big leaps forward. It now encompasses five new commissioned works that focus on more specific, personal issues for the composers, from body image to political oppression, sex positivity, and gender nonconformity. The performance includes electronics, video art by S Katy Tucker, and physically visceral cello playing from Gookin; the featured composers include Paola Prestini, Niloufar Nourbakhsh, Shelley Washington, Alex Temple, and Kamala Sankaram.

Forward Music Project 2.0 has an educational arm as well (Gookin is also a professor at Mannes and SUNY Purchase). Take a listen to find out more about the cellist’s latest step forward. To learn more about Forward Music Project 1.0, check out this episode of KING FM’s Classical Classroom podcast.

A Proud History: LGBTQ+ Stories in Classical Music

by Dacia Clay

Photo by Steve Johnson.

In celebration of Pride Month, Cornish College of the Arts musicologist Kerry O’Brien and early music specialist Byron Schenkman tell stories of LGBTQ+ classical artists from very different periods of music history. How do we talk about queer artists of the distant past when there was no such thing as being “out” yet? Is it possible (or useful) to identify what unique qualities LGBTQ+ artists have brought to classical music? And why is it important to talk about the stories of minority populations anyway?

Byron Schenkman and Kerry O’Brien.

Hear all of this—plus stories you may never have heard before about famous classical artists—in our audio interview with Kerry and Byron.

Audio engineering by Nikhil Sarma.

Wandering, Wailing, and World Premiering with Kin of the Moon

by Dacia Clay

Ultra-soprano Emily Thorner performs this weekend with Kin of the Moon.

Three world premieres make up the concert program for Kin of the Moon’s next performance this Saturday at the Good Shepherd Chapel.

Kaley Lane Eaton’s FUNERAL SENTENCES FOR DAMAGED CELLS, written for and performed by ultra-soprano Emily Thorner, explores the voice as a conduit for expressing transgenerational trauma. It’s paired with two new works by Leanna Keith inspired by taiko drumming and Chinese tea ceremonies, respectively.

In this audio interview, Kaley and Leanna talk about their new premieres, about how Kin of the Moon came to be, and—most importantly—about crows.

Audio production by Dacia Clay. Audio engineer: Nikhil Sarma.


Kin of the Moon and Emily Thorner perform this Saturday, June 1 at 8pm at the Good Shepherd Chapel. For more information, click here.

Soprano Estelí Gomez Soars with Seattle Pro Musica

by Dacia Clay

Soprano Estelí Gomez performs with Seattle Pro Musica on May 18 and 19.

You may know Estelí Gomez as the soaring soprano of the Grammy-winning vocal troupe Roomful of Teeth. She’s also a globe-trotting soloist, performing alongside collaborators ranging from the Seattle Symphony to Yo-Yo Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble.

This weekend, she’s in town as a soloist performing alongside the singers of Seattle Pro Musica. The concert is Passion and Resurrection, titled after the program’s centerpiece by Ēriks Ešenvalds. A dramatic masterwork for choir, soprano soloist, and string orchestra, the piece is unique in highlighting the voice of Mary Magdalene as the female soloist and narrator. The program also includes Frank Martin’s luminous Mass for Double Choir and the world premiere of Panta rhei, a new work by Seattle Pro Musica’s conductor, Karen P. Thomas.

In this interview, we talk with Gomez about her study of wide-ranging vocal traditions, the musical intricacies of Ēriks Ešenvalds, and the value of the human voice.

Music in this interview from Karen P. Thomas’s Panta rhei.
Audio production by Dacia Clay.


Estelí Gomez and Seattle Pro Musica perform Passion and Resurrection on Saturday, May 18 and Sunday, May 19 at 8pm at St. James Cathedral. For tickets and more information, please click here.