Music

Drummers of the Société Absolument Guinin: Vodou Drums in Haiti 2

The impact is immediate when hypnotic ritual drumming strips music down to its most basic element: pure rhythm.


Drummers of the Société Absolument Guinin

Vodou Drums in Haiti 2

Subtitle: The Living Gods of Haiti: 21st Century Ritual Drums & Spirit Possession
Label: Soul Jazz
US Release Date: 2017-03-17
UK Release Date: 2017-03-17

Soul Jazz Records has always had a taste for adventure; no cut is too deep, and no groove is too rare. The label has taken its listeners into many a neglected niche across the globe, with particularly astounding collections of music stemming from West Africa and the African diaspora. One of the latest of this vast array, Vodou Drums in Haiti 2 is a very specific compilation, a recording of Haitian ritual drums used for inducing spirit possessions as performed by members of the Société Absolument Guinin. It’s a straightforward concept—the contents are exactly as promised in the title—but there’s nothing simple about the evocative rhythms unleashed over the course of this album.

From the very beginning, each track is precise and complex, layer upon layer of hypnotic hand drumming done with incredible care and precision. The production values here are a crucial part of understanding just how clean, and tight the tracks are, offering a transportive experience right into the middle of Port-au-Prince. Drums are so intrinsic to Haitian culture that they are the official instruments of the nation, and on this collection, they resonate. There’s something that almost sounds alive about them, and the depth and range of sound that the drummers know how to coax from their instruments make for a fuller percussion ensemble than most.

The many details and intricacies of the drumming make for an unpredictable listening experience, though it’s possible that no one in recorded history has had a better sense of where they’re going than these drummers. They drive forward with a skill so finely honed that each bold beat has become a biorhythm, a natural movement.

In a modern context, it’s hard to imagine marketing sixteen tracks of ritual drumming to the general public, but Soul Jazz knows that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Listen long enough, and you’ll realize that these unrelenting beats are essentially the acoustic form of modern trance music. Fourth track "Pastorelle" has full-on rave energy, and the heavy bass of mid-tempo "Indien" sounds like a chill-out moment in the VIP lounge by comparison. These drums are unquestionably Haitian, a foundational part of Haitian folk culture, but they also speak a universal language. No matter how music evolves, rhythm -- whether unplugged or plugged-in -- will always be a key part of life. That’s the appeal of Vodou Drums in Haiti 2, just as it’s the appeal of every album Soul Jazz has recorded with the Société Absolument Guinin. Pure drumming like this is music and culture stripped down to its most basic, viscerally compelling element. The impact is immediate. The feeling, once you surrender to the groove of each track, is ecstatic.

It’s not necessarily an album to listen to from start to finish each time -- it really is a lot of drumming for the average listener -- but don’t underestimate how good it feels just to sit and listen to these awe-inspiring traditions and their consumate performers.

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