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Vo-Duo: Nou La

James Nadal By

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Haitian musical culture is intrinsically connected to the religious practice of Vodou, with millions of active practitioners and followers. The origins of Haitian Vodou were the ritualistic beliefs of the enslaved West African communities blending with Catholicism, imposed on them by the European rulers. Apart from French, Haiti also has its own inherent language of Kreyol; it is written phonetically, as it is pronounced. The fundamental music sung in Kreyol is mizik rasin, which mutated into the singer/poet movement of sanba, similar to folksingers. This is a preamble to introduce Vo-Duo, which is vocalist/guitarist Monvelyno Alexis and percussionist Markus Schwartz, who on Nou La, reveal a profound folkloric approach to mizik rasin and sanba, preserving the Afro-Haitian tradition.

The Haitian-born Alexis is initiated in Vodou, and has sought serious practice and studies in cultural arts and history as well as formal guitar training at Boston's Berklee College of Music. Schwartz has immersed himself as disciple and performer of Haitian drumming for over twenty years, and is the first-call percussionist on the Haitian jazz scene in New York.

Together, they have chosen a minimalist method in the way this music is performed, presented and produced. Opening with two originals, an a cappella "Bonjou" that eases into "Alegba Gran Chemin," Alexis displays a laidback vocal style more akin to a soft chanting or melodious prayer, his guitar purposely understated as Schwartz maintains a steady rhythmic pulse. Most of the tracks are Haitian folk standards with imaginative arrangements by the duo. They are sung in Kreyol, but with translations in the liner notes to explain the lyrics' significance. The message throughout is metaphorical, dealing with spirits, legends, ancestral connections and natural phenomenon. The pivotal track is "Frelele (The Struggle)," which delves into the hardships which have befallen the people of Haiti; yet they have managed to survive.

Nou La, which translates into "We're Here," is a significant record that represents the voice of Vodou as a modern concept. Vodou has been grossly misunderstood by the outside world, so this is a positive portrayal of its core beliefs by two musicians who have undertaken the task of getting the message out, offered as an anxious cry of faith in Haiti.

Track Listing: Bonjou; Alegba Gran Chemin; Pale Mal; Kouzen; Wongol; Frelele; Simbi Makaya; Zilibo; Gede Men Lajan.

Personnel: Monvelyno Alexis: guitar, lead and backing vocals; Markus Schwartz: drums, percussion, backing vocals.

Title: Nou La | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Self Produced


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