Columbiafrica - The Mystic Orchestra: Voodoo Love Inna Champeta Land

Complex without being confusing, a brilliant Frankenmixture that sounds completely natural.

Columbiafrica - The Mystic Orchestra

Voodoo Love Inna Champeta Land

Label: Riverboat
US Release Date: 2007-09-11
UK Release Date: 2007-09-10

Voodoo Love Inna Champeta Land does all it can to bridge the gap between the thrill of a live performance and the detached calm of the cool synthetic disc that you listen to alone in your room. "You don't need a crowd," it laughs, cavorting with puppy enthusiasm. "We are the crowd." Every emotion is punched up, every trumpet is clear, every voice swells and shouts, everything good is highlighted, and everything bad is gone. The disc is fat with the physically demanding roundelay of Central and West African dance tunes (highlife, soukous, music that lets you know that it can outlast you; you'll tire before it does), the triumphant stab of Colombian trumpets, South American shout-outs that unexpectedly urge you to attend to African guitarists, and the occasional pat on the back from Henry Ortiz's excited accordion. It's complex without being confusing, a brilliant Frankenmixture that sounds completely natural.

Champeta is one of those genres that has managed to sneak under the English-speaking world's radar without a corresponding dearth of attention in its homeland, which is, in this case, Colombia. Colombia is known abroad chiefly for its cumbia, a combination of African, European, and native music that has developed into something different from any of its sources. It is distinctively, unmistakeably Colombian. Champeta is different. Its African roots are still strongly pronounced. It can sound so much like an African dance tune that it's not surprising the English-speaking music market has ignored it. If you want to listen to highlife, kwasa kwasa, juju, mbaquanga or rumba then there's already a tonne of the homegrown Mama Africa bands to get through so why would you need to look overseas to South America?

Whatever impact champeta has made in the English-speaking market owes its existence to the efforts of Palenque, a label that introduced itself to the world in 1998 with the release of a compilation called Champeta Criolla. Criolla was followed in 2003 by Champeta Criolla 2. In the same year Network released Radio Bakongo, a vehicle for a champeta musician called Paulino Salgado who turns up on Voodoo Love singing and playing drums. (And Lucas Silva, one of the brains behind Voodoo Love, had a hand in Radio Bakongo and the Champeta Criolla albums.) But its profile has stayed tiny. Thanks to the near-invisibility of the genre and most of its musicians, Voodoo Love Inna Champeta Land feels as if it has exploded out of nowhere. It's African but not African, Colombian but not Colombian, reggae but not reggae; it is streaked through with other kinds of music -- Cuban, chanting, funk -- without embodying any of them completely.

The Mystic Orchestra is an umbrella name for a collective project that brought a long list of guitarists and singers from Guinea and Congo together with Colombians who added more singing and other instruments: accordion, tuba, trombone, maracas, saxophone, tambora, tiple, güiro. There is a Nigerian singer, a Guyanese keyboard player, and a Cameroonian named Guy Bilong who drums. The photographs in the case hint at the breadth of experience on which the project has drawn. There are young men in stocking headgear, old men with white hair creeping out from under their caps, a man with rasta dreads; another man waving a record player and a small mixing desk; a middle-aged man on a guitar; a solitary woman with her hands on her hips and, on the front of the box, a conspicuously corny picture of a black man wearing faux tribal dress: golden robes, a fur wrap, and an enormous bulbous hat like a porridge-coloured brain growing out of the top of his skull. Stars and planets hang from the ceiling. He is resting one knee on an old chair and a forest of branches has been set up on the table behind him. It's a tongue in cheek depiction of a tribal king with his riches and fetishes. In its optimism and variety the picture suggests 1960s psyche playful spacey experimentation, the sort of thing that sometimes fizzled out under its own indulgent self-importance, and sometimes, loonily, worked. Voodoo Love is at least partly loony and it works.

In a review of an Afropop album earlier this year I wondered if we'd ever get to hear Afro-freakfolk. This, I think, is it. At times it has that wayward but purposeful tapestry quality that you hear in experimental Finns like Lau Nau or Islaja. Instruments jet to the surface as if you'd taken a handful of paint and squeezed so that worms of different colours squirted out between your fingers. Even during the final song they're still introducing new ideas. You can jump around to it too, which I admit, much as I love it, you can't really do with the Finnish music. Voodoo Love Inna Champeta Land is extravagant and ambitious. It's a find.




Love in the Time of Coronavirus

I Went on a Jewel Bender in Quarantine. This Is My Report.

It's 2020 and everything sucks right now, so let's all fucking chill and listen to Jewel.


Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.


Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."


David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.


On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.


Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.


Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.


Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."


How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.


From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.