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Mickey Hart: Heartbeat for Haiti and The Music of The Cosmos

This coming Saturday, February 13, Mickey Hart is hosting a Heartbeat for Haiti Benefit concert at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium on February 13. The night will feature performances by Mickey Hart & Friends with Giovanni Hidalgo, Sikiru Adepoju, and Rebeca Mauleon, Big Head Todd and The Monsters, Brett Dennen and Amos Lee, with proceeds will benefit the What If? Foundation and Partners in Health. In the following interview Hart provides some insight into the origins of the event, the legacy of Haitian music and his current efforts to listen to the history of universe.

MB: Tell us a little bit about Heartbeat for Haiti.

MH: It really came about from a big outcry from the community here – the Caribbean community, Afro-Cuban, Haitian – a lot of my friends are in that zone. This is one of those heartfelt outpourings and I thought that this would be the perfect time to get the movers and shakers of San Francisco’s scene and celebrate that music.

Most people don’t realize that music spawned our music. After the Haitian free slave revolt at the end of the 1700s, it was a mass exodus to New Orleans. They were allowed to practice those very powerful trance-rhythms that came from Yoruba. This is the music of the Saints, obviously. They practiced them only on Sundays – they allowed them to practice the trance-rhythms in Lake Pontchartrain and Congo Square. It took hold in America – the Clave and all of those rhythms that came to us by way of the slave trade for 300 years. The Jelly Roll was down there – and the river took it north to Kansas City to Chicago, New York, and that’s where we got our music.

This is more like letting people know that we love their music and that it’s part of our music now as well and kind of like a reverberation back to them, letting them know that we are here to help in any way we can. But as musicians, it’s music that we do and we’re going to raise a lot of money alongside that. When someone knows that their music is being honored, it gives them hope.

It’s a treasure – Haitian music, and the music of the Caribbean, Cuba, Puerto Rico. All of these things brought us everything that you know – R &B, big band, rock n’ roll, jazz – all that came out of these musical beginnings. That’s what I wanted to base this concert on. And then we asked Linda Tillery, Rebeca Mauleon, and Giovanni Hidalgo from Puerto Rico is flying in – he’s the greatest conguierro in the world! He plays radas, and all these ritual drums from Haiti and Cuba and Puerto Rico. And Sikiru Adepoju from Nigeria – so it’s like a moment. I haven’t been with these folks for 15 years. I had a band call Bembe Orisha a long time ago. And it celebrates this kind of music – bembe is a party and the Orisha is “of the gods.” The Ogun, Shongo, all of the gods of thunder and iron and all of that that they pray to. When they came over from West Africa, they became Catholicized – the names of the saints, but they are all the same.

So that’s what it was all about – to get all of our people together, my people as well. That kind of music has always been a great love. So that’s how it all came about and got started was this kind of grassroots outpouring. Some people would call me and say, “What can we do?” And I would say, “We gotta play for them.” So there’s Brett Dennen, Amos Lee, Big Head Todd and the Monsters. We’re really going after it. It’s going to be very uplifting night, I hope. And considering the enormous catastrophe that they are dealing with, it’s a small step, but it’s something.

MB: You have two great organizations that you’re working with – the What If Organization, and Partners in Health.

MH: Yea, they’ve been on the ground. These guys are bona fide – we checked them out real carefully. They’ve been on the ground for 20 years and delivering food and water on a daily basis – 1500 meals a day. These are really inspired organizations. So there’s no overhead, no administration here, it all goes to Haiti. Everybody participating in it is just giving their all. The musicians are meeting like mad to work this thing and make it as good as it can be. It’s a very rare time when it gets together on this level so I’m going to take advantage of it and be really refreshed by the music and try to make a real positive statement to Haiti.

MB: It definitely seems like a great event with all of these world renowned musicians.

MH: Yes it is. When I share the stage with Giovanni [Hidalgo] and Linda Tillery, it’s a good day. I consider it a really good day. I could do that every day.

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