Chronique musicale 175: Orchestre Septentrional – Yon ti kout je – Chapo ba for a superb new CD!
Throughout her turbulent history, Haiti has known terrible moments: natural disasters, dictatorships, leadership crisis and so on. Today, we find ourselves in the middle of a frightening crisis of moral and political leadership that is shaking the society to its core. However, despite all this, there is a constant element which has always given all Haitians comfort and pride. It is its vibrant, multifaceted, creative culture, its art, its music, its dances.
Nothing epitomizes this better than the Orchestre Septentrional’s latest release entitled “Yon ti kout je”. It should be noted that the CD was released around the anniversary of the passing of the legendary Maestro Ulrich Pierre-Louis on September 2, 2009.. It also marks the celebration of the 70th year of existence the Orchestre Septentrional, a unique feat in the Caribbean, if not in the Western Hemisphere! Both from the musical and audio points of view, there could not be a better way to stress such milestone than the release of a superb album of the highest quality: In the liner notes, Wilfrid Hyppolite, an expert of the history of the band, writes the following: « La sonorité qui enveloppe chacune des pistes du CD est d’un niveau supérieur qui dépasse de loin la simple norme standardisée ».( The sonority on each track of the CD is of a quality far higher than the norm (my translation). Nothing could be more true.
The mixing is simply impeccable: a clear sound, perfect balance in the volume of the instruments, an immensely enjoyable set of melodies. Kudos to Ambiance Studios, Best definition Studio, Loudly Sound Studio, Finalize Studio, Bato Studio, Djazz la Studio. The sheer number of recording studios are illustrative of the professionalism, the care and the minutiae with which the musical Director François Nicol Levy, approached the music. Lévy, who had taken over the musical direction of the group after the passing of the legendary maestro Ulrich Pierre-louis had already done a magnificent job with the previous release entitled “Pi Douvan”, allaying the doubts of fans worrying about the future of their dear Septen. This latest release is even better. There could not have been a more fitting tribute to Maestro Pierre-Louis than such an excellent CD around the anniversary of his death.
Right from the introductory song, you immediately take not of the purity and crispness of the sound. I absolutely love the way congas players Kersty Sinsmy and Alix Nozile play their instruments. They contribute a solid rhythmic support that enlivens the songs. I invite to pay a special attention to the conga throughout the CD. As far as the horn section, it is outstanding with three trumpets, two sax alto and on sax tenor. Musical Director Nicol Levy is on top of his game. The harmonic lines are perfectly put together and a real joy. Among other strengths on the CD is the variety of sounds, the mix of the traditional and the konpa, as Wilfrid Hyppolite mentions in the liner notes. You cannot get bored listening to this masterpiece. Each song brings a different, most satisfying feel. Whether it is track No. 1, 2, 3, 6 , 8, 9, you hear something new everytime. It is most interesting to note how Nicol Lévy modernizes and adapts the sound of the Orchestre Septentrional while being mindful at the same time of preserving its traditional style. He interweaves the trademark sound of the band with sometimes the konpa beat, sometimes with Haitian folkloric beats like congo, ibo. Listen for example to track No. 3 “Abandon” or 4 “Me mwen”, or 6 “ Yon ti kout je”, or any other track for that matter. In that respect, track no. 5 “ Nou retounen”, written by Nicol Lévy, is a remarkable piece which sums up what Lévy sought to do and successfully achieved: a nice mix of the traditional sound of Septentrional incorporating the modern influences on Haitian music. Indeed, listen carefully to the congo introduction of the tune and to the seamless transition to konpa then to the beautifully harmonic jazz phrases of the guitar, sax and trumpet solos. Just exquisite sound! The voice of Jean François Pierre Louis is perfect and very accurate. Track no. 7 “Claudia”, written by Maestro Kesmy Doréus is another beautiful tune on the CD, as well as the two other tracks (4 and 13) which he also wrote and will, I am sure, will get you on your feet to dance. Jocelyn Alcé’s bass lines are a joy to listen to.
Septentrional remains one the few Haitian bands which believes in including a “bolero”, slow ballad, on its CDs, a tradition dating back to the big bands of the past. Track no. 8 “Nous deux” is a nice melody which will bring back nice memories. I appreciate very much the fact that the lyrics of all the songs on the CD are meaningful, well constructed and carry a message…unlike some bands which seem to compose the songs first and then, as an afterthought, fill in the melodies with any kind of lyrics.
If there is an absolutely remarkable fact about Orchestre Septentrional, 70 years after its creation in 1948, it is not only its longevity, but also and above all the fact that it has maintained a tradition of continuity rare among Haitian groups. Three other groups could be included in this category: the other giant of the North, Tropicana, and the legendary groups Tabou Combo and Magnum Band. Given the circumstances in Haiti, this is no small feat, particularly if we take into account that, as far as I know, there remains only two surviving founding members of the original band. I do not believe they still play. That is why the highest praise should be heaped on this new, younger personnel which has been able, not only to keep the originality of the band, to modernize its sound, but also in the process, to show how dedication, discipline and professionalism and seriousness inevitably will lead to enduring success. The thirteen songs which comprise this CD are a vivid example of such perseverance and a source of pride for all.
If I am raving about this CD, it is because I really consider it a Septentrional masterpiece and I am urging you not to only take my word for it, but to hurry and buy your copy and hear for yourself; you will not regret it!
Serge Bellegarde for Windows on Haiti – September 2018
Help fight Haitian CD piracy, we all will be better for it. Otherwise, the musician loses, the music industry loses, the culture loses.
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