Album Review: Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers – Vodou Alé [Les Disques Bongo Joe; May 2020]

Vodou Alé (Les Disques Bongo Joe) is not simply inspired by the ritualistic archetype that is voodoo, in fact, it is the perfect antidote to this esoteric paradigm of the Haitian tradition. Native to Haiti itself, Chouk Bwa are first-hand practitioners of the vodou faith of west African descent, their music is from the heart of the Haitian community. Chouk Bwa’s ancestral transportations arise from themes of injustice, hardship and natural destruction. Their vodou drumming retains the traditional, polyrhythmic complexities that are unique to its style, and the affluent nature of each ceremonial channelling forces them to surrender. It is a free-form expression of ritual healing and newfound solace.

Title track, “Vodou Ale”, is a minimalist choral and percussive exchange, leaving room for the imagination. Chouk Bwa find an unshakable counter-pulse to the Belgium duo, The Ångströmers dub heavy sound system that gently augments its appeal, and an exotic dance tune is born.

The arrangement of which provides the framework for the rest of the album. “Move Tan” is weighted with a deep and resounding undertone, as with “Vodou Ale”, it resembles the sound of distant thunder. The Ångströmers’ studio collaboration supplied the desirable soundscape of the natural catastrophe that it portrays. It has been modernised by their distorted electronics, rumbling bass parts and creative moments. They provide a radical homage to the sacred practices that are delivered freely through impulse and play.

Vodou Alé is the distinction between ancient traditions, rituals, events and contemporary fusions. With an element of transcendental improv, it is obvious that the music moves through them but not from them and although it is with them, it does not truly belong there. Be willing to be surprised.