It’s exactly how the title describes it: The Rough Guide to Voodoo. Immediately captivating, this collection eliminated a lot of preconception from the get-go for me, leading me down a road of exploration and discovery of a cultural crossroads largely unknown to western civilization. There’s much more to voodoo in the Americas than Dr. John (and yes, he is represented here), and from the start of this fine comp one realizes this.
Throughout Disc One of this collection you’ll hear voodoo represented in many styles, including jazz, bossa-nova, traditional West African music, Cuban, European hymn, and folk. The languages are many, but the music is universal. Primal. Moving. Each song tells its own story. Starting with Desandann (a Haitian-Cuban vocal ensemble) and their convincingly Catholic derivation “Guede Nibo”, the subject matter is far from the Christian definition of holy. As I read up on the topic, our “Guede Nibo” is a young man who was initially murdered in a most violent manner, secondly resurrected at a voodoo god and subject of effigy, and thirdly he was worshipped and revered through material homage and homoerotic dance ... not quite shocking due to the context, but definitely not what I expected as far as the hymnal delivery suggested.
Maria Bethania’s enchanting “Canto De Oxum” is essential listening for everyone, no matter the level of intrigue regarding voodoo and the religion that lies within. Her deep resonance and sensual reading of the lyrics is felt through the language barrier. Dr. John’s “Marie Laveau” is a classic New Orleans telling of the voodoo queen’s tale, and is by far the most accessible track for the naive American haplessly purchasing this at the airport coffee stand awaiting their departure to an inclusive resort anywhere. These three particular highlights I’ve mentioned happened to be the most familiar motifs for this uninitiated Westerner on the record, and as far as the rest of the sounds found within ... they’re real, sometimes unsettling, but unabashedly forward in their sexual rhythms. The Rough Guide to Voodoo ain’t no sugar-coated 101-strings kind of thing. It deserves serious consideration for truth in advertising alone.
What’s ultimately surprising here is the bonus disc. Six years after its original release, Erol Josué‘s Régléman is by far a modern exercise in voodoo tradition especially when you compare it to the majority of Disc One, and could be the most widely accessible authentic work in the genre. Not to discredit the lure of Dr. John’s Gris-Gris (which is essential), but Josué is a voodoo priest from a long line of practitioners, which carries a convincing weight towards a non-secular essence. The record’s Western influences are subtle, but substantial. And Josué‘s use of newer sonic terrain is quite clever in its ability to persuade more than historians and parishioners to push play. Combine Régléman with the broad mix of interpretations within Disc One, and you have exactly what you paid for: a primary-school syllabus to guide you through more forensic voodoo music studies on the way to a masterful dissertation. Enjoy.