This Friday sees the release of Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra on Glitterbeat Records. A project built on a passion to reunite the rhythms and religion of people torn from their homes in West Africa to be sold into slavery on the Caribbean island of Haiti.
At the forefront is the Master Drummer of Afrobeat Tony Allen who was initially called on by Corinne Micaelli, the director of the French Institute in Haiti to perform on the island at a public concert with Haitian musicians. Allen agreed, and Erol Josué, a singer, dancer, voodoo priest, and director of the Haitian National Bureau of Ethnology, helped to recruit local percussionists and singers. They decided, in order for different strands of Haitian music to be represented, that the musicians would be drawn from a cross-section of the country’s foremost bands, including Racine Mapou de Azor, RAM, Erol’s own band, the Yizra’El Band and Lakou Mizik, the group of Sanba Zao, one of Haiti’s leading percussionists and traditional singers. With just five days to rehearse before the concert which would be broadcast live across the country. Putting it together, as guitarist Mark Mullholland says was “complete chaos”.
We were all in this tiny room, playing. We had 10 percussionists from all of Haiti’s top bands. Then there was Tony, Olaf Hund on keyboards, and Jean-Philippe Dary, an old friend of Tony’s, on bass. He became the de facto musical director. The sound was overwhelming. Mark Mullholland.
Many of the songs came from the Haitian musicians based around a voudou rhythms and a chant. They had no idea how it would turn out but the results were, as you can hear in their new video for Bade Zile, spectacular.
The original plan was to record the live concert but, due to technical issues, that never happened and the prospect of releasing a recording that captured the magic of what had happened seemed like a distant dream. Thankfully they still had the multi-track recordings on which Mullholland was working. He also managed to re-record all the vocals with Erol Josué, Sanba Zao, and the other singers. Then a chance meeting with Glitterbeat’s Chris Eckman in Mali sealed its future…
What emerged from those long, hot sessions were a series of tracks with roots on both sides of the Atlantic, compelling layers of subtle polyrhythms that bridge centuries and cultures. Relentless grooves become the foundation for soaring, utterly modern melodies like the swirling, electronica-fuelled “Salilento” or the Afro Vocoder ritual sound of “Yanvalou” that’s inspired as much by Krautrock and Sun Ra as Lagos or Port-au-Prince. Flying on inspiration and adrenaline, it’s roots music for a global future.
“I think the album captures the spirit of all of us together in that room,” Mulholland says proudly. “It’s anarchic and energetic. And I really believe it’s good, it’s honest, it’s new. It’s different. It was an experiment that worked.”