Album Review: Vaudou Game – Kidayú [Hot Casa Records, 8th September 2016]

Vaudou Game’s Kidayu is a sophomore album of a second coming of vaudou funk, a genre of orchestral music that was popular in West Africa during the 1960s and 70s. Its ten songs signify proudly and loudly as James Brown meant for funk to, inviting its listeners to feel and dance along to a ritual of cultural magnanimity and poignant faith in self.

A bit of Vaudou history before we go any further: Vaudou, in Dahomey-ian (now Benin) language translates to spirit. Each Vaudou is both played a rhythm to, and danced, in a specific way, as a way of serving this spirit. This “spirit serving” is that of a cultural region that extends into Togo and Nigeria, and now includes the Western Hemisphere. According to oral history tradition, Dahomey was founded by a Prince of the royal family of Allada, who came from Tado (Togo). This same Dahomey became, for some time, a vassal state of the Yoruba Oyo Empire (Nigeria), not to mention that The Fon people, those in Dahomey and in Togo, have also settled some parts of Nigeria. In other words, Vaudou is a term used to denote historical religious practices, and animist philosophies that have spread around the world but originate from the culture of the Fon people in Togo, Nigeria, and Benin.

Peter Solo, Vaudou Game’s lead, was born in the city of Aného-Glidji in Togo, known to be a major center for Vaudou. He is the group’s singer; this album’s shouts are his. Solo’s idea for contemporary Vaudou music is to focus on Vaudou harmonies, “musical scales”, as it was the case for the past Vaudou Funk of groups such as Orchestre Poly-Rhythmic de Cotonou. His idea of Vaudou Funk is music that is supposed to be Vaudou culture: ritualistic and respectful of the natural world.

What’s come out of Solo’s conceptualizing of a contemporary Vaudou funk music, Kidayú (or sharing in Kabye language) is quite frankly beautiful. The album starts out with a literal exclamation point of an artful song, “Natural Vaudou”. The album continues on for nine more songs of Solo’s vernacular singing style, and of a great band. The album’s most impressive song is ‘Elle Decide”.

Kidayú is not that entrancing, though it enlivens. Vaudou Games’s project is the second coming of Vaudou Funk, this time playing the music without the appeal of black power politics to associate one’s self with, the real reason why funk was so popular. Nor are these songs ceremonial Vaudou music. It succeeds at art first and foremost, a much harder job than succeeding at politics or religion through music.

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