FIL’s Lisa Stafford, others honored for helping Haitian band facing political crisis

Haitian band RAM got a helping hand from the Lafayette community late last year. Image courtesy RAM

It all started back in late October 2019. Haitian band RAM was playing in the U.S. on a work visa and soon discovered it would be returning home to dangerous civil unrest. Violent protests and clashes between the Haitian president and the opposition made for a domestic crisis. “Had we gone home, we wouldn’t have been able to keep making music, and RAM would have gone back to areas of gang warfare, street barricades and government repression,” bandleader Richard Morse says. “Haiti was on lockdown.”

That’s when Festival International de Louisiane Programming Director Lisa Stafford and the local community stepped in. “I simply got an email asking if I could help, so I called upon some friends,” says Stafford. Within an hour, she had organized an entire group of people. “I had Sami Parbhoo (Festival board member), John Williams (Love of People), Mark Falgout (Blue Moon Saloon) and Ravi Daggula (Mouton Plantation) at my desk offering help. Scott Feehan, executive director of Festival International, was also making phone calls and offering to help.” 

On Jan. 12 the entire community was honored for the generosity it showed RAM and its impact on the music industry. Stafford accepted the Troubled Worldwide Award on behalf of the Acadiana community in New York City. 

FIL’s Lisa Stafford (Photo by Robin May)

Stafford received the prestigious award, which recognizes non-performing professionals who’ve made an impact on the global music industry, from globalFEST. Honorees are chosen for their risk-taking, innovation and tireless commitment. The award is named after Alex Nova, who — through her tireless, joyful efforts on behalf of bringing people together through music — left an indelible mark on the global music field. Stafford is one of only three people to receive this award, and, according to Stafford, is one of only two recipients still living. 

Over the last decade, globalFEST, an annual cultural celebration in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, has become one of the most dynamic global music platforms in North America. Some of Festival International fans’ favorite bands started on the stages of the innovative music festival. It acts as a catalyst for up-and-coming talent and takes claim for sending artists to festivals such as SXSW, Coachella and, of course, Festival International. Remember Zap Mama? You can thank globalFest. Lose your mind over Brushy One String? Yep, globalFest. In short, globalFest has some powerful clout behind it, so when it gives you an award, people pay attention. 

Stafford and the other volunteers who came to RAM’s rescue realized that to keep a foreign group of musicians in the country legally, you had to keep them working, as in performing and gigging. In addition, the band needed food, housing, transportation — all of which were provided by various supporters. “We wanted them to feel safe and at home. What was going on in Haiti was terrible and dangerous,” says Stafford. 

Food and meals were prepared and donated by various organizations such as Reggie’s Soul Food, Baton Rouge Blues Foundation, Love of People and individuals like Stafford and Parbhoo. Housing was donated by Toby Doré of Cajun Hostel, as well as Staybridge Suites, transportation by Hub City Ford, along with a host of performance opportunities.

Acadiana Center for the Arts and CODOFIL stepped up to book RAM for elementary and junior high school workshops. “We taught people about Haiti and Haitian culture in French, English and Creole,” says bandleader Morse. The band played at Blue Moon Saloon, a Blue Monday fundraiser at Rock ’n’ Bowl, Bayou Teche Brewery and even at the Festival International board Christmas party. “[Stafford] essentially gave us the opportunity to keep making music during a time that if we had gone home, we wouldn’t have been able to keep making music,” he says.   

Once the situation calmed down in Haiti, RAM was able to return home at the end of December. During RAM’s stay, someone in the global music industry got wind of the efforts, recognizing what an incredible feat the people of Lafayette accomplished, and nominated Stafford. 

“This was truly a community coming together for someone in need. I think they truly feel they have a home here now and will be back to perform or visit at some point,” says Stafford.