WORLD MUSIC : Spiritual Collections From Haiti, Cuba : VARIOUS ARTISTS: “Rhythms of Rapture: Sacred Musics of Haitian Vodou”, <i> Smithsonian Folkways</i> *** : VARIOUS ARTISTS: “Sacred Rhythms of Cuban Santeria” <i> Smithsonian Folkways</i> ***

Voodoo. The word alone conjures up visions of night-walking zombies and eerie dolls punctured with spell-invoking pins. But real-world vodou (the word, which means “sacred,” traces to the Fon language of West Africa) has little affinity to the cliched images of horror movies. In Haiti, it is a pervasive cultural expression that blends religion, philosophy, healing and a colorful array of creative arts.

Music is an intrinsic element in that expression, and is essential to its religious observances. “In vodou,” explains Wesleyan University ethnomusicologist David Yih, “participation is more important than dogma, and participation means, to a large extent, singing, dancing and drumming.”

The far-ranging “Rhythms of Rapture” collection, which includes selections associated with various aspects of vodou ceremony, was drawn from live source music, studio recordings and popular songs. It is being released as a companion piece to the “Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou” exhibition currently showing at the Fowler Museum of Cultural History at UCLA.

The music has been sequenced to follow the basic regleman , or rules, of Vodou. Most of the pieces are identified with two of the best-known rites-- Rada and Petwo --with the addition of a few works related to Bizango , or secret societies. Each consists of distinguishing music, rhythms and dances linked to the individual characteristics of the spiritual entity, or lwa , called up by the celebration of the rite.


Lacking even the slightest awareness of the multitiered cultural ramification of this music, however, it still can have a powerful impact. The tracks include captivating original material: a remarkable Yanvalou rhythm recorded in 1947 by filmmaker Maya Deren; a 1990 hymn-based song in Mereng rhythm that suggests subtle correlations between vodou and Roman Catholicism; and a 1983 Bizango supplication to the lwa , Met Kalfou , a spirit of the crossroads. And it contains--in the music of contemporary ensembles such as Rara Machine and Boukman Eksperyans--performances that reveal the degree to which this vital and energizing music has penetrated beyond the boundaries of Haiti.

The Cuban compilation chronicles music associated with Santeria, an Afro-Cuban religion tracing to Yoruba ethnic beliefs, which entered Cuba in the 18th and 19th centuries. More than in any other location in the North American hemisphere, Cuban music--no doubt because the slave trade continued there until 1886--retained a robust connection with its African roots.

Santeria ritual involves an invocation of a variety of gods/saints, or orishas , via rhythmic sequences, orus, performed by drums, batas , gourds, abwes and a metric pattern produced by the blade of a hoe struck with a piece of metal. It is, for the most part, complex, irresistibly rhythmic percussion music--enriched with singing and chanting--that becomes increasingly fascinating with repeated hearings.

* Recordings can be ordered by calling Smithsonian Folkways (301) 443-2314.

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