On his fourth album, Ayiti Étoile Nouvelle, Haitian guitarist and songwriter Wesli slips in and out of styles and genres that span hemispheres. Released by Wes Urban Productions, the album is unified by his fleet guitar playing, steadfast percussion section and upbeat emotional timbre.
Wesli’s latest album feels like it spans La Francophonie, much as his own biography does. Born in Haiti, Wesli now lives in Montreal, a locus of the Haitian diaspora. While his music always hinges on the Caribbean nation, the scope of Wesli’s interests go beyond his homeland’s varied musical traditions. To put it lightly, the guitar and the French language have gotten around. So over the course of 14 tracks, he visits a West African kora on the song “Sonje”; his guitar work slips onto the backbeats in a way reminiscent of reggae or even MPB on “Ile”; there’s even some Creole-sounding accordion and violin work on “Latibonit.” The instrumental constants are found in the percussion section. “No matter what I play, I always use two particular drums, the tata and the boula, and an iron bell that sets the pulse, much like in West African music,” Wesli said.
While undeniably a very rhythmic record, the percussion is never overpowering—in fact the typically gentle, pillowy vocals provided by Wesli or his chorus of female vocalists stay in the foreground from track to track. The results are always very listenable and pleasant, from the festive-sounding opening track, “Rara,” to the acoustic ballad, “Ca Fait Mal.” The variation in style is a double-edged sword—the record is never boring but the genre shifts can make the record hard to place or hold onto in your mind. “I’m not a typical guy when I take one music and go with it,” Wesli has said. “I have the privilege of combining cultures.”
For all the talk of genres that each song might fit into, Wesli is working at the much harder task of forging his own musical identity. His background in Montreal’s varied global scene, and his chameleon-like ability to fit his guitar into any situation, has definitely given him a solid framework in which to play.