Rara Machine, Voudou Nou

Chris Nickson

By Chris Nickson

on 04.22.11 in Reviews
The sound of Haitian Carnival, tweaked expertly.

Ra-ra is the music of Haitian Carnival, where melodic and rhythmic phrases interlock and build something complex and often quite beautiful, with grooves that would have made James Brown envious. Based in the capital of Port-au-Prince, Rara Machine uses ra-ra as the basis of their sound — they have one foot in the present, but the music is powered by the past. Often they venture into reggae and jazz, as on “Vitkwa San Gloi” or the brooding “Lagel,” but the tradition is in the rhythm, and when they strip it down, as on “Invocation,” it's stunningly powerful roots music. Leader Clifford Sylvain has charisma that bursts out of the speakers (he sounds like a Haitian Bob Marley), and the percussion, insistent and compelling, never lets up. It's a dizzying, irresistible ride, at its best when it's at its rawest, the drums red-hot and the voices yelling out the answering phrases. At that point, the line reaches directly across the Atlantic.