Tangled Roots

Summoning musical spirit at Rasin '99

In Morse's eyes, however, while the names may have changed, the social terrain hasn't. Backstage at Rasin '99, he reflects on the impact that the changing politics in Haiti has had on RAM's music, saying simply: "Today we sing more about hypocrites." He pauses and then looks pointedly at the young men from King Posse, eagerly devouring beans and rice from Pollo Tropical at the next table. He adds sharply: "Then you have what we call the 'palace bands.' They're the ones who play for whoever's in the palace."

Whatever might be surmised about King Posse's political bedfellows, the band's trademark happiness could not be further from RAM's fusion of the righteous protest of traditional vodou and the raucous rage of British and American punk. The mixed-race son of prominent Haitian folklore singer Emerantes de Pradines and the grandson of popular music pioneer Auguste de Pradines, Morse grew up with vodou music at home and punk on the streets of his native New Jersey. "We use vodou and vodou uses us," says Morse, referring as much to his belief that the vodou deities have kept him alive despite the many attempts on his life, as to his desire to harness vodou as an innovative musical force. Morse promises RAM's next release, currently being recorded in Haiti, New Jersey, and a studio in Homestead, will be "huge." For this vodou-punk project, Morse has recruited Andrew Weiss, formerly bass player with the hardcore outfit the Rollins Band, and more recently a producer for the tongue-in-your-face rock outfit Ween.

Summoning spirits and musical vibes at Rasin '99
Tony Savino
Summoning spirits and musical vibes at Rasin '99

The explosive potential of a vodou-punk collision could be seen and heard onstage at Rasin '99. In place of the exuberance unleashed by a mere recording of King Posse, the Rasin audience swayed in thoughtful attention throughout RAM's set. Lead vocalist and former folklore dancer Lunise Morse flowed like liquid across the front of the stage. In the wings rabid RAM fans complemented her movements with the ritual movements dictated by the drums. Meanwhile Morse stood firmly planted by his microphone, his Jersey white-boy stance repeated by Weiss on guitar. The drums beat raboday rhythms, while the guitars and keyboards picked out a ragged raw-edged ska, making a noise as palatable to disgruntled American youth as it is troublesome to Port-au-Prince politicians. Along the far-flung routes of Haitian music, roots get tangled.

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