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Kera Washington, Zili Misik

Photo of Kera Washington, Zili Misikcourtesy of the artist

How would you describe your music?

Zili Misik is "roots music of the African Diaspora" or "New World soul" (the title of our first album). It is a fusion of powerful Haitian, Brazilian and West African rhythms that infuse Zili's original creations and traditional folksongs. Reconnecting Haitian mizik rasin, Jamaican roots reggae, Afro-Brazilian samba, Afro-Cuban son, and African American spirituals, blues, jazz and neo soul, Zili Misik honors its influences while creating a sound that is uniquely its own.

What is your role in your band? In the studio? In business or marketing decisions?

I am founder, band leader, one of the vocalists, and lead percussionist for Zili. Right now I am manager (would love to pass this role!!) and booking agent. I have co-produced our first two albums with our engineer, Gabe Herman; but we mixed together as a band.. We collectively (8 women) make business and marketing decisions.

Describe your gear.

The gear that I use in Zili Misik: congas, bongos, a bag of smaller percussion (including different kinds of bells & rattles and flutes), udu (clay pot -- makes a water sound), flute, cavaquinho (a four stringed instrument from Brazil & Cape Verde), mbira (an African "piano" or metallophone), various stands to hold all the instruments, microphones & a full PA system (monitors, speakers, mixing board, stands, etc)! (but it all fits in my toyota 4runner!)

Related Themes: Gear

Do you think being a woman and a musician is different from being a man and a musician? If so, how? Was there a moment that made a difference clear to you?

"In some ways, definitely! I began Zili as an all-female band, because I was often the only woman in large world music bands (Batwel Rada, Tjovi Ginen in Boston) and, while I LOVED the music, I got tired of hearing how good I was ""for a girl"". So I started Zili Roots with two of my friends; when I went back to grad school, the band became co-ed as the membership changed. As the musicianship got better and better, the women in the band (maybe it was just with this particular group of men) became more and more invisible, til one day I just left the rehearsal for awhile and the men in the band didn't even notice -- they were vibing on each other so much. It just seemed that the original intention of the band -- to become a place where female musicians could shine -- without feelings of gender bias -- had been lost. I decided to put an ad on Craigslist, just to see if there were female musicians that would be interested in this concept -- and many of the women who are currently in the band responded! We played for awhile with our male drummer as the only guy (he was perfectly happy with this ratio), until he moved to NYC. When we put out feelers again, we had 5 female drummers to choose from. NOW, five years after becoming all female again, we have grown, our musicianship has grown, our band has grown, and, while it is important to us that we are all female, we also appreciate being musicians first and letting our gender be second. "

Do you see differences between generations of women musicians?

I look to those female musicians who have inspired me -- Sweet Honey in the Rock, Sarah Vaughan, Big Mama Thornton, Women of the Calabash, Marie Daulne of Zap Mama, Emeline Michel, Meshell Ndegeocello -- (and I know everyone in the band has a different list of mentors) who have paved the way for us. They have given us hope and guidance and I know, we have little of the challenges that they faced because they have already faced and traversed them. I give thanks for their work and they knowledge of the women we inspire today is what keeps me going.

Related Themes: Off The Clock

Did anyone ever give you any valuable advice about making your way in the music industry? What advice would you give to a woman musician just starting out?

Listen listen listen. Ask questions. Find good mentors. Try not to burn bridges even when it is difficult. I have lots of mentors that I still call for advice (although my mother is not a professional musician, I ask her advice everyday!)

Related Themes: Advice

Why did you choose to play the instrument you play?

I didn't begin playing percussion until college. I met a Professor from Haiti who taught me about the importance of Haiti, particularly to this region of the world. He also introduced me to the world of ethnomusicology (which was not yet taught at Wellesley College) in an independent study. During that course he explained to me the importance of playing music -- in order to truly understand it, so it was a natural next step that we begin playing -- I invited some of my friends to meet with us and that course became the drum and dance troupe that I now direct at Wellesley. I began to travel to study with master musicians (Haiti, Brazil, Cuba, Sierra Leone, Cape Verde) and to seek them out more intentionally here in the U.S.

Related Themes: The First Time