Review on Wire Magazine about the LP “Death in Haiti” (Discrepant)

Death In Haiti: Funeral Brass Bands & Sounds From Port Au Prince
Discrepant DL/LP

Graham Greene said that not being sure was the only real way of telling that we are alive. From which it follows that the only absolute certainty is death. For complex cultural reasons, Greene’s The Comedians, written in 1966, remains the most convincing literary representation of Haiti. The Duvaliers have long gone. The Tontons Macoutes, with their oddly prissy denim suits and shades, have given way to the chimères gangs, but somehow Haiti is still defined by death, its comedy the risus sardonicus of the corpse.

We know — or think we know a lot about the New Orleans funeral. Film makers love it. We’re not quite so comfortable with the Haitian equivalent. The film version of Live And Let Die took the book away from Ian Fleming’s settings in London, the US and Jamaica, and placed James Bond largely on the fictional San Monique, palpably a version of Haiti that allowed director Guy Hamilton to exercise every hokey voudou cliche in the book. No wonder Roger Moore’s eyebrows were raised. In December 2016, sound artist Felix Blume made field recordings of a number of Haitian funerals, complete with cries, laughter, rhum and marijuana at the graveside, one procession with no body, and the voice of the blagueur Ti Batau, who’s there to remind us that life and death are a comedy rather than a tragedy.

The whole thing is woven into a complex sound portrait in which music by Maestros Walter, Turenne and Ronald is only one aural component among many. It’s a curiously dignified collage, a kind of meta-ritual in which the sometimes contradictory components work together in new and unexpected ways. “Pran Kwa Mwen” is all raw brass, while “Ami Fidele Et Tendre” is gentle enough to crack the heart. Blume has none of the ethnomusicological detachment of similar projects. He feels this stuff, and lets us feel it too.

Brian Morton
Wire Magazine nº418 December 2018
https://www.thewire.co.uk/issues/418

Wire Magazine 418