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From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>


NEW YORK, (Jul. 16) IPS/GIN - There are fewer contrasts in the  Caribbean
today that are more sharp than that between Haiti's  poverty and history of
authoritarian rule, and the ecstatic,  pulsing dance music for which the
country is renowned. 
   Now, "Traditional Music of Haiti," a multi-volume project  undertaken by
Haitian producer and musician "Aboudja," intends to  introduce Haiti's rich
and dynamic musical past to a wider  audience. 
   Once he finds a major distributor for the four-CD set, Aboudja --  the
pseudonym of Ronald Derenoncourt -- is hoping is to release  the record
series in Haiti and the United States this winter. (The  CD set is
currently distributed in New York by Crowing Rooster  Arts.) 
   All four volumes of the project -- "Soukri," "Grandra," "Souvnans,"  and
"Djakata," named after the churches to which the performing  musicians
belong -- will feature Vodun music that originated with  Africans who were
brought to Haiti as slaves in the 1600s. 
   Vodun evolved in the Caribbean when West Africans -- from what are  now
Togo, Benin, and Nigeria -- merged their own traditional  African religions
with the Catholicism imposed by the Spanish and  French colonizers to form
a new hybrid. 
   Followers of Vodun worshiped a pantheon of spirits, which included  a
supreme being and hundreds of minor spirits. The religion served  a highly
functional role, uniting slaves from different African  countries while
overcoming linguistic and ethnic barriers. 
   The drums and chants of Vodun ceremonial music were practiced in  secret
and imparted coded messages that brought the slaves  psychological and
spiritual sustenance amid their hardships. 
   But Vodun is hardly a thing of the past. The religion is deeply  rooted
in Haitian society and continues to play a central role in  people's lives.
Experts estimate that today, more than 60 million  people practice Vodun
   Most of the musicians performing on the albums are unknown outside  of
their native country and have never been professionally recorded  before. 
   "There is so much musical potential in Haiti," said Aboudja.  "People
just don't take the time to find it." 
   A prime example of such unknown talent is Sanba Zao, a singer and 
musician who performs on "Djakata." Zao's evocative singing and  the many
exciting call-and-response patterns between him and a  female chorus are at
the center of the album. 
   The lyrics to the songs are sung in Creole -- a phonetic fusion of 
various African languages and French -- over a bubbling bed of  propulsive,
polyrhythmic percussion. The only wind instruments used  are "vaccines," or
bamboos pipes of varying length and diameter. 
   The result is an electrifying dance recording, but one recorded  without
electric drums. Aboudja is firm about his decision to not  utilize anything
except traditional Haitian instruments on the  album. 
   Besides drums, vaccines, and "granbos" -- bamboo tubes that are  played
by beating on the ground -- the musicians rely mostly on  their voices,
hands and feet to propel the music. 
   "I don't believe that there is any law that said what 'real' music  is,"
Aboudja said. "It's not just the Western idea of music with  a guitar." 
   Aboudja has only recently returned from Haiti, where he recorded  with
Zao and his band. He is now at work polishing the tracks in  a U.S. studio.
Besides correcting flaws, he is mixing, editing and  manipulating the
original recordings in the studio to enrich and  enhance their sound. 
   Most traditional Haitian music does not use vocal harmonies. On 
occasion, some voices sing "high" while others sing "low," but this  is a
matter dictated by individual range. 
   With the technology available to him in a studio, Aboudja was able  to
create the effect that Zao and the chorus of singers were  harmonizing with
one another by moving and overlaying their vocal  tracks. 
   Aboudja acknowledges the irony inherent in using sophisticated  studio
equipment to produce a series entitled "Traditional Music  of Haiti." 
   "We are using the most advanced software with the oldest, most 
traditional music," he said with a laugh. "We want to present  people with
traditional Haitian music that is well-performed and  cleanly,
professionally produced. 
   "Traditional music has been recorded there before, but it has been  poor
quality. This music deserves a high quality recording." 
   Aboudja said he turned to the past because he finds little to  inspire
him in today's music. He deplores the current state of  American music,
which he feels has lost the originality and soul  it had in the 1970s, when
jazz greats like Wes Montgomery, George  Benson, and Stanley Clarke and
bands like Earth, Wind and Fire were  at the height of their powers. 
   "That was the best period in American music for me. Those artists  had
no boundaries," he said. "These musicians now, they write songs  like they
are doing paperwork -- with an introduction, middle,  conclusion -- and
without originality." 
   He laments that jazz, which he adores, has lost much of the fervent 
following it enjoyed in the past. Especially disappointing to him  is that
the genre no longer has the same allure it once did to  African American
musicians and audiences. 
   Aboudja's strong opinions on all things musical developed over a  career
that spans more than 20 years. During the 1970s, he  relocated from Haiti
to the United States, where he performed jazz  in New York's East Village
and worked as a record producer. 
   While he would certainly be pleased if the series found a wide 
audience, Aboudja's main goal is to use technology to preserve a  part of
Haiti's unwritten culture. 
   "It is important to remember the music of the past," he said. "We  can't
allow our history to be lost."