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#183L TAPPING THE MUSICAL TRADITION OF VODUN (fwd)
From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>
TAPPING THE MUSICAL TRADITION OF VODUN
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,
"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
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."