CD Review no. 54 | All CD Reviews

We are all very familiar with the saying that " music is a universal language ". Indeed, whatever the language, music promotes culture, allows societies which may be quite different from each other, to engage in mutual exchange. This is the kind of cultural activity which has been taking place between Haiti and Japan. Thanks to the Haitian Ambassador to Japan, Mr. Marcel Duret, a number of Haitian artists have been now regularly performing on the Japanese musical scene: Boulo Valcourt, Eddy Prophète, Joel Widmaier, Azor, to name but a few. The list is much longer. " Haitian Spiritual Wind : Azor and Harold Faustin " is the latest product of Haitian and Japanese cultural cooperation. Recorded live in Japan last year, it was produced by Ambassador Marcel Duret and Yu Teshima. While we unfortunately cannot see them, the musicians were accompanied on the stage by Daniel Marcelin (pantomime) and Vanesca (Voodoo dance). Judging by the applause and the reaction of the audience, it must have been a dynamic performance, to say the least.

Azor is one of the top conga players in Haiti (in my book, he is the best). I do not remember ever having heard such a combination of guitar and conga in Haitian music and that is most remarkable. Azor is one of the most disciplined and refined conga player to come around since the legendary Ti Roro. When, a couple of years ago, he played in a concert in Maryland with Eddy Prophète, Ginou Oriol and Toto Duval, I asked Eddy whether Azor had any formal musical training, since his playing was so good. Eddy's answer was negative, Azor had it in his blood, he told me. He plays effortlessly, weaving at will through different Voodo beats : Nago, Petro, Kontredans, Djouba, Yanvalou, Ibo etc. He knows how to interact with other musicians, alternately playing softly, or hitting the conga hard, something not easy with a loud instrument like the conga. Listen for example to tune No. 3 Minis Azaka, played on a Doujba beat. At no time are we distracted from the singing by the conga. And while guitarist Harold Faustin is doing his solo, Azor follows every step and keeps the song moving, whatever the complexity of the melody. He can also be very lyrical as in tune No. 5 Danbala Wedo or No. 9 Peze Kafe.

Although the spotlight seems to be on Azor, he is most ably supported by Haitian jazz guitarist Harold Faustin. Listen for example to tune No. 2, Sous Kay la, played on a Petro beat. He delivers a stunning solo which brings the audience to its feet. You can clearly hear him warming up during the solo, uttering the notes he plays on the guitar, while Azor keeps up the beat. He also makes a very nice solo on tune No. 3 Minis Azaka. Another example of crisp playing , among other songs on the album, is tune No. 6 Gran chimen played on the Ibo beat. All in all, as you listen to Azor, you feel the serenity and the assurance of a musician who is at ease with himself. And the audience responds in kind, giving him, Faustin and the rest of the group a tremendous ovation.

If you really want to hear how awesome Azor is at the conga, tune No. 10 will give a pretty good idea. . In a solo lasting less than 2 minutes, he manages to play no less than seven different Voodo beats. That is quite remarkable. Note the transition from one beat to the other. This is conga played at its finest : skillful, crisp, evocative, energetic and soulful.. In short, this album is an another ringing tribute to Azor's considerable talents as the top conga player in Haiti in my estimation. Harold Faustin on the guitar is one of the top Haitian jazz guitarists who is leaving his mark on the jazz scene. It is unfortunate that on this CD, the guitar came out somewhat muffled . But otherwise, add this CD to your collection of Haitian-Japanese musical experience, made possible by the tireless efforts of Haitian Ambassador to Japan, Marcel Duret.

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I recently acquired a CD by one of my favorite Rasin (Roots) groups, Kanpèch. Folks, the rythm is infectious. I have always been impressed by this group from its inception. Their melodies are so well thought out and memorable that you cannot help humming them all the time. Its Carnival tunes are usually out of this world.

As is always the case with Rasin music in Haiti, the lyrics are not empty. Each song carries a powerful message which says a lot about the state of mind of the group. The lyrics either describes the socio-political situation in Haiti or urges us, African people, to take our decisions ourselves , instead of letting others speak for us (Tune No. 3). Of particular notice Bob Marley's famous tune, Could you be loved. Kanpèch makes a tremendous job of arranging this song with Daniel Beaubrun (Boukman Eksperyans) on an Ibo, Petro beat . It is quite interesting to see the links between Reggae and Rasin music. Tunes No. 5 and 11 are the Carnival tunes from 1998 and 1999 for which Kanpèch won first prize. They remain as fresh today as then. The message is still valid, and you cannot remain still listening to these songs. I pretty much like all of them on the album. I find a certain similarity of sound with Boukman Eksperyans. The mixing is pretty good and well-balanced . However, I find a bit unusual that the title of some of the songs be listed in English, while the lyrics are in Kreyòl. Of the 12 songs on the CD, 5 have Kreyòl titles, while the rest is in English. I cannot find an explanation for that.

But, that should certainly not deter you from running to your CD supplier and get your copy. This is a very nice album that should be added to your collection of Rasin music.

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In other news
With the end of the year rapidly approaching, we are expecting the usual cornucopia of end of year CDs. There are some gems coming out soon : Haitiando, Vol 3 is on its way. I had the privilege of listening to 2 or 3 songs on it and believe me, it is going to be very hot. There are some added surprises on the CD which will please you. Gina Dupervil's new CD is also due very soon .

For the classical music lovers, Micheline Laudun Denis, one of our best classical pianists, will release a CD in the very near future. So be on the look-out for this. Finally, on December 29, there will be a big concert at Carnegie Hall for the victims of the September 11 tragedy. I understand a number of great Haitian musicians will be on hand for this event, among them Beethovas Obas, Ricardo Frank (Ti Plume), Michel Presoir, Jean-Claude Eugène and many more. So mark this date on your calendar, it is quite an important one.

Serge Bellegarde
For Windows on Haiti