By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
For listeners whose perception of "voodoo" has been formed through the distorted lens of Hollywood, Libäte (Pran Pou Pran'l!), the third release by Haitian rasin band Boukman Eksperyans, is a joyous revelation. Central to the album A indeed, to the the importance of Boukman Eksperyans in its homeland A is the traditional role of rara (Haiti's Vodou-based music) to spread information, discuss current events, and inspire action among the country's largely illiterate population through the use of oblique, allegorical lyrics (all sung in Creole).
The CD, whose title translates into English as Freedom (Let's Take It!), opens with the somber "Legba." Accompanied by the soft shake of a lone percussion instrument, brothers Theodore and Daniel Beaubrun alternately sing of a protective spirit who is "in the courtyard, in the compound." The Beaubruns' lilting vocals eventually are met by the gorgeous choral response "Aleba is at the gate." The band's ability to seamlessly fuse its musical influences becomes more evident on the following cut, "Sa'm Pedi" ("What I've Lost"). A synthesizer and bass announce the song in tandem with a brief Afro-pop burst. Three Vodou drums and assorted percussive sounds then join the mix, and the song settles into a dreamy, polyrhythmic current that's punctuated by extended licks from Daniel's Santana-esque fuzz guitar.
That approach is indicative of the rest of the CD, in which Boukman spreads its musical net far and wide. Piercing guitars, funky bass lines, calypso melodies, and infectious chants from the chorus weave their way through joyous raras such as "Peye Pou Peye" ("You Must Pay") and "Jou Male" ("Day of the Shock"); a jazzy saxophone solo floats into the compas-tinged "Ki Moun" ("Who Will"); the synthesizers that wash through lush numbers such as the title track and "Zan'j Yo Tounen" ("The Spirits Are Back") nod to the influence of Pink Floyd and Eighties Europop bands. On "Ganga" (named for a spirit from the Kongo nation), a synthesizer forms a velvety layer of sound, while over the song's soothing harmonic chorus a band member possessed by Ganga reveals some secrets in the KiKongo tongue.
But it would be a mistake to focus too much on the Western influences that, at best, provide interesting signposts. What ultimately makes the CD so compelling is its defiant social outlook: Veiled topical references to Haiti's litany of woes and villains are interspersed with the broader themes of suffering, justice, and redemption. Add the extensive liner notes, Creole-to-English lyric translations, and glossary of terms that crop up throughout the CD, and Libäte is nothing less than an insider's view of the ongoing struggle over Haiti's soul -- and a powerful introduction for the uninitiated to the beautiful complexities of Vodou lakou.