Many musicians have a pre-show ritual that helps them get pumped up and focused for a performance. When I played in bands, that varied from having a whiskey and soda on my own to practicing alternate picking with a Thrice song. Backstage at SXSW, I had the opportunity to observe several artists in pre-show rituals. The singer of Liniker e os Caramelows did yoga stretches along with some vocal warm ups. DakhaBrakha gathered together in costume, their icy gaze not straying from each other. The most interesting pre-show ritual I witnessed was with Vox Sambou. The 7-piece band huddled in a circle, football style while their frontman, Vox acted like a priest, blessing them with positive reinforcement and clapping them on the back. After the band took the stage, Vox looked a little drained. Sipping a drink, he came up to me and asked if I knew why his band wore red shirts and black trousers.
Vox launched into an impromptu history lesson about his county. When Haiti gained independence, the white color of their previous flag, which was French, had represented European influence and was subsequently cut out, leaving only blue and red. Another incarnation of the new Haitian flag used black and red, which had roots in traditional Vodou and Maroon societies.
The ideological foundation for the Haitian Revolution can be traced back to the Bois Caiman Ceremony, where an educated slave, Dutty Boukman and a priestess prophesized the slave rebellion, slaughtering an animal and suggesting that those who took part in this “blood oath” would be impervious to the bullets of the French. This blood oath still has a big cultural significance in Haitian culture and is the reason Vox told me his band wears red shirts and black trousers. While telling me this story, Vox’s band took the stage and started warming up the crowd. After what seemed like nearly ten minutes of the most detailed accounts of Dutty Boukman and his trials, the energy of the band and the crowd had reached a feverish level. As I was just about to ask if Vox should make his way to the stage, he set his glass down and looked me dead in the eyes, “now you know something important about the history of Haiti and how something as simple as one color can be so meaningful.” I thanked him for the amazing history lesson and thanked myself for being party to one of the most impactful pre-show rituals I have ever witnessed.