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Five Things: Haitian Music, A Wedding Ring And A Grammy With Dan Zanes

Jon Okon

I remember meeting this week's guest, Dan Zanes, many years ago when I worked at WFUV in New York City. He was doing a live spot on the radio with his band and asked for some people to come in and sing backup, so I piled into the tiny studio and crowded around a mic with some of my coworkers to warble a little "Erie Canal" with Dan and the band. Most of Dan's audience these days is children and their parents, and even though there were no children present that day at WFUV, we had a blast. He's the kind of person who has a perpetual smile on his face, but it always feels genuine.

He calls what he does "family music" or "all-ages music," not "children's music," because he really is playing for everybody. In talking with him, I learned about how he really sees his music and the way he plays as part of an effort toward social justice. We also talked about his new wife (they just got married in January!) and his Grammy award, and he turned me on to some super cool Haitian music.

Dan Zanes will be appearing at the Louisville Palace on Saturday, February 24 at 2 pm. He's also doing a free family music workshop on Friday, February 23, at 10 am at the South Central branch of the Louisville Free Public Library.

On getting married again:

"I never thought I'd have a wedding ring on again. I did once, for quite a while, and it means so much to me because I'm a different person and I feel like I've evolved quite a bit. [Wife Claudia Eliaza and I] share music and everything else, we work together and do everything together, which is a little bit of a time-honored tradition in music, not always with a happy ending, but sometimes with a very happy ending."

(Here's an adorable video of Zanes and Eliaza singing together.)

On the Leon Dimanche record that introduced him to Haitian music:

"This [record] is the one that really took my excitement and my interest to another level. This is the record that turned me into a stone freak for this music and made me suddenly stop caring about anything else. It's the sound of a young person who's a vocal genius, who sings in somewhat of a formal style, and he's singing mostly in French, not in Creole. The music is very sophisticated but it's being played by a young band, and it's just drums, bass, and saxophone and then Leon Dimanche plays guitar. It's the raw sound of a band finding their way, it's almost like a garage band playing these extremely sophisticated ballads."

On winning a Grammy Award in 2006:

"It's a beautiful thing. It's an out-of-body experience. Maybe after you win a bunch of them, you get used to it, but it was an out-of-body experience. And you just realize, in the space of 30 seconds, that your life is changed for the better. And who doesn't like that?"