From the time she was 12 years old, Inez Barlatier would drive to Miami Beach every Friday night with her dad and younger sister. For three hours, her family's musical group would play to tourists dining at Tap Tap, a colorful Haitian restaurant on Fifth Street. Murals by artists from the island nation adorned the walls, including one behind the stage that was painted by her father.
"All my new material as a beginning songwriter was always performed there first. It's where I learned that the delivery of my lyrics had a positive effect on people," says Barlatier, who is now 25 and performing solo after years of playing with her band Kazoots.
Barlatier grew up in North Miami in a home filled with constant sounds of jazz and Haitian roots music. Her father, Jan Sebon, played in the band Kazak International and taught African drums at her school, DASH (Design and Architecture Senior High). His "distinctive, infectious sound" has always stayed with her, a constant source of inspiration.
"If my father wasn't a musician, I probably wouldn't be one either," she says. "He's still in the front row at my shows, and I've been doing this for over 12 years."
After high school, Barlatier formed Kazoots with longtime friend Jayan Bertrand, whose parents were in her father's band. The word combines their parents' band name, Kazak, with an acknowledgment of their musical roots.
The group had a loyal following around Miami but went on hiatus this summer so the bandmates could work on solo projects. For Barlatier, the break has allowed her time to teach with organizations such as Motivational Edge, a group that uses music to motivate kids in school.
Recently, Barlatier has been drawn to the performing arts. Last summer, she toured Central America with the stage production Writing in the Sand, where she starred as a Haitian musician in a play about three immigrant women living and working in Miami. At Miami Theater Center, she's now part of a teaching artist ensemble, visiting schools to talk to students about upcoming plays.
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As she's become more involved in theater, Barlatier has started envisioning her music set to the stage. Next year, she'll debut her first solo stage production at Climakaze Miami, a weeklong climate-change rally featuring artists, activists, and scientists. Her multimedia performance will feature original music she's coproducing with Cuban musician Pavel Urkiza.
The show will close out the whole event, but Barlatier jokes it's "not a full hour of save-the-Earth songs." With a focus on climate justice in Haiti, her act will have a worldbeat flair, leaning on African, Brazilian, and Caribbean influences.
"I want to portray a new image of a Haitian woman in the Americas," she says. "My message is always about embracing one's heritage — know thyself, so you can love thyself."