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Various Artists: Angels in the Mirror, Vodou Music of Haiti

The Vodou religion is one of the world’s fascinating traditions, but also one subject to stereotypes and misunderstandings: popular mythology regarding the cryptic force of “voodoo” tends to prevail, even in the face of a more world-aware cultural climate. Music plays a central role in Vodou practices, the basis of the concise and enthralling compilation Angels in the Mirror, Vodou Music of Haiti (Ellipsis Arts…4120; 66:39), which could do its part in helping to demystify the religion. At the same time, the album celebrates the mysticism at the core of Vodou, which translates as “spirit” in the African language of Fon.

There’s no separating the hybrid basis of Vodou from the strained circumstances of its origins. Vodou arose from the dramatic socio-historical environment in what is now called Haiti. As a colony of Spain and then France, the island became a repository for slaves displaced from Africa. The slaves carried on their rich spiritual traditions by fusing indigenous beliefs with the socially acceptable European system of Catholicism, as well as influences left over from the Amerindian population. The famed Haitian slave revolution left the nation liberated by the early 1800s, but cut off from European culture.

Vodou is, by now, secondary to Catholicism in Haiti, but its roots run deep. On this album, various ensembles-such as Mapou Fo and Lakou Badjo-perform musical Vodou rituals in sound and rhythm, to hypnotic effect. Drumming is central to Vodou practices, invoking spirits and the all-important element of dance, underscoring call-and-response chants reflecting social and religious messages. Contemporary Haitian music is becoming more integrated into the world music scene, thanks to the popularity of groups like Boukmans Experyans, but this album, like Rhythms of Rapture: Sacred Musics of Haitian Vodou, the earlier compilation on Smithsonian Folkways, seeks to capture a more traditional and timeless essence of Haitian culture.

If anything, the drawback is the album’s brevity: this music appeals to a universal sense of musical energy, while chronicling, in sound, a stigmatized world religion.

Originally Published