voudou rhythm

While we twiddle our thumbs in expectation of tomorrow’s new show, a couple of other programming decisions at basic fm have strongly impressed upon my thinking the need to round up a couple of things I never finished with regards to Panic & Carousels 8 – ‘It’s A Small World’ (click to download, or stream at mixcloud). There was a lot of supplementary material and a considerable pile of promotional leaflets picked up on my way out through the gift shop on that little ride and in the end I confess it rather outran my capacity to order it. It may indeed be a small world, but I wouldn’t want to be the one doing its admin. Here though, is some of it to get your teeth into. In his unwilling/unwitting role as some kind of ‘spirit guide’ through the confusion Mr William Burroughs proved himself invaluable in a variety of unexpected ways. His ‘Nothing Here Now But The Recordings’ will be on basic on saturday at the alarmingly early hour of 8-9 am should you be looking for diversion with your breakfast.

Deren-Voices-SMvoodoo-drums-hifi600VFSL 102 booklet 16pp.indd

Elsewhere in that episode we touched upon the sacred music of Haitian voodoo and I’d intended to post up something about those tracks. First and foremost among them is ‘Ghede Nimbo ‘ from Maya Deren’s extraordinary early 50’s recordings captured on ‘Voices Of Haiti’. Deren is a fascinating woman, went to Haiti  from the point of view of a dancer and surrealist film makerbut became fully involved with voodoo as a belief system. I posted her accompanying ‘Divine Horsemen’ film at the time. If you liked the tune or the film ‘Voices Of Haiti’ is broadcast on basic again this coming saturday at the altogether more civilised hour of 7:30 pm. Here’s a few words from the sleevenotes.

Voices Of Haiti, 1953
Recorded during ceremonials near Croix Des Missions and Petionville in Haiti by Maya Deren

The belief that the proper performance of a sacred formula of symbols or sounds is the means by which man achieves contact with divine powers is a basic principle not only of Voudoun, but of every religion. Such formulae were known as mantras in ancient Sanskrit, and this is still the term for all such ritual action, whether the chants of the Muslim muezzin or the saying of the Catholic rosary. The use of mantras is as ancient and as universal as man’s desire to improve his condition and secure his destiny. It is as prevailing as the proud conviction of each man that his weaknesses and inadequaceis are, by and large, common to all men and that, consequently, the power which is sufficiently superior to sustain and fortify him is one which is superior to man altogether. In times of need a man may seek to enlist such assistance by magic means. (…) If the songs and drumming achieve the compelling power which I believe is represented in this album it is because the microphone, lashed to the center post of the ceremonial peristyle, has captured a record not of men and women at play, not of their relaxed spontaneities, nor of their effort to create an art work for other men or for the satisfaction of any employer. It is a record of labor, of the most serious and vital effort which a Haitian makes, for he is here laboring for divine reward, addressing himself not to men but to divinity. They are singing for the gods. It is a privilege to have overheard and to have recorded it. – Maya Deren (from sleevenotes)


The middle of the trio here is ‘Voodoo Drums in Hi-Fi’. When I first came upon this record I took it to be an L.A. studio recorded, exotica/exploitation type of deal, perhaps akin to Elisabeth Waldo’s ‘Rites Of The Pagan’  which makes an appearance later in the mix. It’s not though, credited only to Voodoo Drums it is, like Deren’s record, on-location recordings of genuine Haitian Voodoo ceremonies apparently performed by “country group amateurs”. As the title of the album might suggest to the observant it features much better quality recordings than ‘Voices of Haiti’ although the subtle differences in the tenor of the sleeve art and  notes might paint it as a less than thoroughly scholarly undertaking.

“Voodoo Drums In Hi-Fi”, 1958

“Haiti may be a dark enigma to most of its visitors, but if one learns the language of the drums, the life and mind of its people open to you like a flower. The drums are never silent; day and night they sound from some vague distant place, muffled but distinctly articulated like a heart-beat. […] The drum rhythms — as well as the art of making drums — came from Africa. […] From Africa also came voudoun, which is a religious ceremonial and also a deeply ingrained attitude to life and the nature of things[…] Through the boungan (the voudoun priest), man converses with nature. Through him, man supplicates for protection against impending dangers, and through him, sometimes, man strikes at an enemy.”

divine-horsemen Divine-Horsemen-the-Living-Gods-of-Haiti-film-fragment1

Last up then is the altogether more recent and altogether different Cut Hands. Cut Hands is the new(ish) ‘Afro-noise’ project of William Bennett formerly of controversial/puerile noise provocateurs Whitehouse. He doesn’t use field recordings, in fact as far as I’m aware he doesn’t even use any samples but repurposes the rhythms through programming to make some very hard edged techno. Inevitably, his questionable past has come back to cause him headaches regarding the apparent ‘cultural appropriation and perpetration of racist stereotypes’ involved in the new project. He wriggles away from and around the issue numerous times in a great Quietus interview from Oct 2011, here’s a quote but it’s worth reading the whole thing

What you’re saying about not wanting to generalise about things like world music, for example – you seem like you’re very aware of, and involved with, the musics that you’re drawing inspiration from. Which I see as very important if you’re not to be seen as shallowly appropriating from something. Without giving adequate context, if you like, are you aware, or worried, that people might consider you to be doing that?

WB: I don’t think I could ever be accused of misappropriating anybody’s music, because it’s not music that’s derived from other people. As I was saying earlier, I take responsibility for my music, but it’s my music, it’s not anybody else’s. And if people don’t like it, that’s great, I have no problem with that. I take total responsibility for it, good and bad. It’s music that’s meaningful to me, and that’s as much as I can say.

Nevertheless he has recently, finally,  felt the need to make this unequivocal statement to clarify his position. The track on the mix ‘Black Mamba’ rather curiously went forward as the U.K.’s entry in basic fm’s Noise for Europe counter eurovision caper. It came second and as a result Cut Hands will be programming some stuff for basic at some point. This might take a variety of forms obviously but I’m rather hoping it turns out in the vein of an amazing mix of Haitian and African music he did about 18 months ago for FACT. Here’s what he had to say about that, as pointed out in the previous question it does seems clear he is engaged with and respectful of the music he’s drawing on…

“There’s a critical, almost paradoxical, difference between not having permission to do something, and not knowing fully why. Listening to these extraordinary African percussion pieces beyond their original intent and outside their original context, it’s noticeable how much power they still have to entrance thanks to how much of ourselves we increasingly allow ourselves to bring to the experience.

“The percussion I’ve selected here is, for the most part, of the most aggressively high energy kind. Perhaps a concession to my own blunted frustrated tastes or perhaps a consolation for not being there to experience it live. I’ve created it in the form of a continuous mix because what might first appear as irreverence, to me seems totally respectful to this music’s true intent and function. I want it to be a non-stop listening experience in order for these complex doun-doun and djembe polyrhythms to ably work their magic. You’ll be grateful for them and it.”

you can stream that on mixcloud here and whatever you think about Bennett and the Cut Hands project you really should, because it’s amazing music.folder


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s