From the Cabo Verde archipelago we travel to Haiti with Paris based Nigerian master drummer Tony Allen for another Afro Futurist meltdown before heading off to Cuba…
The Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra‘s album is a meeting of minds and deep rhythmic connections. Seven-and-a-half thousand kilometres of cold ocean separate West Africa from Haiti. But music can cover that distance in a heartbeat, crossing the Atlantic to reunite the rhythms and religion of people torn from their homes to be sold into slavery.
The concept for this project started with Corinne Micaelli, the director of the French Institute in Haiti. She wanted to bring drummer Tony Allen – the riddimic power behind Fela’s Afrobeat experiments- to the island to do a performance with Haitian musicians at a major public concert. Tony agreed, and Erol Josué, a singer, dancer, Vodoun priest, and director of the Haitian National Bureau of Ethnology, helped to recruit local percussionists and singers.
Musicians were drawn from a cross-section of the country’s foremost bands – Racine Mapou de Azor, RAM, Yizra’El Band and Lakou Mizik. They had just five days to compose and rehearse a set of music they’d play in the main square of Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, and broadcast live throughout the country.
According to guitarist Mark Mulholland recalls, “Putting it together was complete chaos. Madness. We were all in this tiny room, playing. We had 10 percussionists from all of Haiti’s top bands. Then there was Tony, Olaf Hund on keyboards, and Jean-Philippe Dary, an old friend of Tony’s on bass. He became the de facto musical director. The sound was overwhelming. Honestly, I don’t think any of us knew what to expect when we began.”
The plan was to record the event but on the night technical problems kicked in and it didn’t happen. It seemed that the music which had emerged from those long, hot sessions would be no more than a fleeting memory.
However, Mulholland couldn’t accept that. He decided to go through the multi-track recordings from the inspirational and adrenaline fuelled rehearsals to see see what he could find. Subtle polyrhythms bridged centuries and cultures. Relentless grooves emerged as the foundation for soaring, modern melodies like the swirling, electronica-fuelled ‘Salilento’ or the Afro Vocoder ritual sound of ‘Yanvalou’. Mulholland was convinced they had achieved something important that deserved to be remembered and before leaving Haiti for his home in Bamako they re-recorded all the vocals with Erol Josué, Sanba Zao, and the other singers.”
It was in Bamako that Mulholland Glitterbeat’s Chris Eckman and told him about the Haitian experience and Tony Allen’s involvement. He was hooked. They mixed a couple of tracks and it rolled on from there. The results are on this Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra album and Mulholland proudly declares, “It’s anarchic and energetic. And I really believe it’s good, it’s honest, it’s new. It’s different. It was an experiment that worked.”
Once you’ve checked out the unfettered sounds of the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra may want to get a taste of more traditional but modern Haitian sounds and for that you need to look no further than Lakou Mizik’s ‘Wa Di Yo’ on Cumbancha. Lakou Mizik is a multigenerational collective of Haitian musicians formed in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake. The group includes elder legends and rising young talents, united in a mission to honour the healing spirit of their collective culture and communicate a message of pride, strength and hope to their countrymen and to the world. This ensemble have produced a warm rootical 12 song set propelled along by uplifting vocals that take you deep into the heart of the community. Expect to be transported to yard on a balmy star lit Caribbean night and be lifted gently by layers of percussion, a racy snare, fluid bass lines, a sensual accordion and guitar and volleys of life affirming blasts from those Haitian Rara cornets.
Staying in the Caribbean, Richard Bona’s Madekan Cubano Sextet deliver an album which taps into the ‘Heritage’ in fine style. This is the first Afro-Cuban recording from the Brooklyn based Cameroonian bassist and it’s a gem. Bona’s sweet vocals do remind me of Lokua Kanza and that’s one mega recommend on my part. Over the precise percussion of Luisito and Robero Quintero and we get crisp muted trumpet from Dennis Hernandez and muscular trombone from Rey Alejandre. Pianist Osmany Paredes dazzles throughout. From delicate ballads to tracks guaranteed the set a dancefloor alight multi-instrumantalist Bona shines brightly. Shame I missed them when they recently played Ronnie Scott’s.
Just as President Obama has relaxed relations between Cuba and the US we seem to be experiencing a steady flow of musical collaborations. Since arriving on the NYC scene in 1998 the 25 year old percussionist/corista Pedrito Martinez has established a powerful rep. On this ‘homecoming’ album – ‘Habana Dreams’ – he pulls together 3 sets of collaborators. There’s the Pedrito Martinez Group, then there’s the honoured guests – Wynton Marsalis, Ruben Blades, Isaac Delgado, Angelique Kidjo, and finally, Pedrito’s Cuban family. As Ned Sublette puts it in his excellent sleeve notes this album is Pedrito’s return to “the dense urban world – of santeros, paleros, ecobios, rumberos, professional musicians, and strivers of all kinds, to say nothing of ancestral spirits – that is the Cayo Hueso neighbourhood, part of the teeming, treeless sprawl of Centro Habana.” This CD is musically diverse but well grounded. It’s a test of Martinez’s songwriting skills and amazingly his quartet have mastered how to play timba – a tough, modern, cutting edge dance style normally restricted to big bands. Well worth a listen.
Finally, on a more “straight ahead” jazz tip we touch down on the masterclass offered up by saxophonist David Murray, pianist Geri Allen and drummer Terri Lynne Carrington. ‘Perfection’ is a moving homage to their friends and mentors like Ornette Coleman (‘Perfection’), Wayne Shorter (‘Samsara’), Marcus Belgrave (‘The Nurturer’), Charlie Haden (Barbara Allen)and Mary Lou Williams (For Fr. Peter O’Brian). As to be expected this a trio at the top of their game – inspired, uplifting and powerful.