Monday, August 20, 2012

...and Love

Gigigigigi... I don't know the language, but the music sure is pretty.

The opening moments of this record offer a subtle compositional exploration: it starts with them chanting this one thing over a mid-tempo groove, then we get released into a faster free-fall. The groove returns with them chanting the same thing but shifted over a beat. Or wait maybe it's on the same beat but the tempo is a little slower? Something disorients. Then the free-fall again.

(Little emphasis-shifts occur throughout this album: "Ou Mam' Avem" zips along serenely and in the middle we get this tiny punctuation, a bar with a barely-accented strong beat at the end gets repeated a few too many times, to where you subconsciously think the record might be skipping - but before it hits your awake brain it's gone.)

Back to "Map Di". The band fades into the background and Coupé's vocals come up. He's talking or going off or something in I guess Creole. No idea what he's saying, the tone light but firm; I'm picturing a half-smile and an occasional raised eyebrow. Not understanding the words is a drawback sure but I console myself by hearing the voice as an instrument. He's a master sure and certain and he woofs through an everlasting warp. The bulk of this fifteen-minute track is the quiet free-fall bed and Coupé's persistent rant; he hits a percussive "Map Di. Map Di. Map Di." about twelve minutes in, after his second incredibly understated five-second raspy howl "Ooooooooohhhhhh!" (the first came a minute before). The band comes back up, he gives us another sung chorus, the mid-tempo evanesces and drops off a cliff, leaving us with a few spoken words - is their effect chilling or hilarious if I knew the language? I'm certain it's one or the other.

Everything about this music is so confident. Emphasis is embedded deep within. It barely breaks the surface.

It sounds more like soukous than the music of the islands, but there's always a Caribbean lilt, especially in the slow croons. I looked up the music of Haiti on this handy peer-edited online encyclopedia I like to use, hoping to find a little background on Coupé Cloué. I didn't find that, but I did find this incredible paragraph whose jumble somehow echoes the raspy rant I'm hearing:

Starting in the late 1970s (with discontent surrounding the increasing oppulence of the Duvalier dictatorship), youth from Port-au-Prince (and to a lesser extent Cap-Haïtien and other urban areas) began experimenting with new types of life. François Duvalier's appropriation of Vodou images as a terror technique, the increase in US assembly and large-scale export agriculture, the popularity of disco, and Jean-Claude Duvalier's appreciation of konpa and chanson française disillusioned many youth and love.

So like, some kind of messed-up political situation, tough times, weird vodou stuff mixing with the politics, some disco. I guess that's about right. I think maybe the thing that puts it off-kilter is just the "and love" at the end: without that it all makes grammatical sense. It echoes the subtly but confidently shifting grooves on the record.

Bad politics, new types of life, and love. The framework barely breaking the surface, subtle emphasis. Life lived. And love.

But back to Coupé Cloué.

The song "En Ba Banane Nan" has an amazing title, no? I picked up this snatch from it: Why. Why. Why. Why. C'est par example...

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