FOULA | Voodoo Jazz from Haiti
Label: Blue Vision (Germany) - 1995
Kreyòl jazz music production has been flourishing for more than ten years now because of active involvement and musical talents of Haitian and American musicians in Haiti as well as abroad. They innovated in creating music inspired by our African legacy. They revisited traditional and popular Haitian songs adopting a jazz approach. As we journey back to the origin of such an initiative, we want to pay tribute to the band that really initiates this movement in the mid seventies (1). To do so, we will review their unique album, dressed with the eponymous title “FOULA”. Released in 1995 by the German label Blue Vision, this album is the product of long research and an avid passion to preserve the Haitian musical legacy.
The album introduced an original and iconoclast concept wrapped into a raw sonic texture. Three Haitian drums embody the core of the rhythmic section. The tempos are fast, inspired by the “Bann Rara’s” rhythms and marches. Guitar and bass “walk” into the path of the drums to create one of the most unexpected rhythmic lines upon which repeated layers of shouted chorus verses interweave with the happy melodic lines of Théodat’s tenor or soprano saxophone. Scattered whistles blowing here and there added to the omnipresent “Kata” from beat of metal “bout fè” complete this “Bann-a-pye” atmosphere (listen to “Sovè”). The strings are percussively played to keep up the dynamics and amazingly they blend with dazzling arrangements all along this creative collection of pieces devoted solely to the preservation and the protection of the Haitian musical identity. For a unique and first album, this is definitively a master piece, a testament of sort.
From the beginning with “Kamimizye”, to the end through “Gede Mazaka”, the band lays its vision and crystallizes in time this piece of “Voodoo Jazz” (2) anthology. The tunes flow, keeping the listener engaged and inviting to dance. The song Africa is one of the most sought after. It was revisited twice by guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly with his band “Ayibobo” (3). Deeply inspired by the sacred music of voodoo temples, the album is full of happy melodies that remind of the ones in free/modern jazz. But the similitude stops right there. These compositions stand out and are deeply rooted in the Haitian culture and society. They talk about religion, community and economic concerns. The polyrhythmic harmonic concept starts from the roots (3 drums) to venture towards an integration of jazz elements such as free improvisation and syncopation. Other groups that followed the path thereafter will reverse this approach to essentially play jazz with a color or zest of voodoo music. From that standpoint the Lakou Boys’ endeavor is even greater and more valuable nowadays.
Voodoo Jazz (4) bands such as Foula and Ayizan (5) remained unique in the history of our music. They opened the doors to an unchartered territory because few musicians or bands venture into that path. Gifrants, Markus Schwartz, Thurgot Theodat and Monvelyno Alexis are rare exceptions on today's Kreyòl jazz scene. This CD is unfortunately out of print. But, it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
(1) The album released in 1995 was the result of years of research on Haitian sacred music. There was a first attempt with the band "Sa", Foula's ancestor, in the mid seventies. This band never officially recorded its music. Only the musicians have these recordings.
(2) Although singer Joe Archer already made an attempt to call his music voodoo jazz, we believe with Foula's music suits better this phrase that had a more commercial connotation with the former.
(3) Guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly is the author of the Ayibobo project, a band he put together to honor his Haitian roots. The band produced two CDs "Free Style" and "Stone Voodoo". Ayibobo revisited many of Foula's compositions and even hired Wilfred Lavaux, Chico Boyer and other Foula's musicians for a series of concerts in Germany in 2004 and 2005. This meeting at the crossroad generated a lot of interest for the music of Foula.
(4) Foula came up with the phrase "Voodoo Jazz" for the music they play
(5) Alix Tit Pascal's Ayizan musical combo produced "Dilijans" that was released in 1984 and is similar to Foula's approach but with a softer sonic envelop based on Rara music as well.
Alphonse Piard, Jr.
June 27, 2013