Friday, April 12, 2019

“Pulsating and Mesmeric”: The French Afro-Funk of Vaudou Game

“Music night” this evening at The Wild Reed spotlights Vaudou Game, a French afro-funk band which since the release of their debut album Apiafo in 2014, have performed throughout Europe, Africa, America, and Asia.

Vaudou Game's official website notes that the band's singer/composer Peter Solo channels through his music “the ecstatic voodoo rituals and melodies of his upbringing with funky guitars, keyboards, bass, rhythms and brass.” Solo also frequently “performs in a ceremonial mask, invokes gris-gris (lucky charms) to ward off sonic demons in the studio, and infuses his concerts with ecstatic rituals.”, provides the following backstory of the band's charismatic singer.

Born in Aného-Glidji, the birthplace of the Guin tribe and a major site of the Voodoo culture, Peter Solo was raised with this tradition’s values of respect for all forms of life and the environment. At an early age, he made a makeshift guitar, and his music propelled him into the spotlight, his undeniable talent earning the respect of renowned African artists. Mastering traditional percussion instruments, his desire to discover the world and to carry his practice forward led him to England, where he became immersed in gospel music and then eventually to France where he calls home today.

Since the release of their 2014 debut album Apiafo, Vaudou Game have gone from strength to strength, receiving critical acclaim from the UK press for their 2016 release Kidayu.

I must admit that I was first drawn to Vaudou Game when I saw a number of the band's album covers featuring lead singer Peter Solo in the ceremonial antelope mask that he often wears for photo shoots. (I find it hard to believe he actually sings in it!) Given my interest in the Celtic horned (or antlered) god Cernunnos, this attraction isn't that surprising.

Vaudou Game's most recent album, 2018's Odoti, was recorded in Lomé, Togo. It's an album, writes Ian Forsythe of, of "bare, grinding funk intertwined with traditional Voodoo trance elements." Blues and Soul magazine describes Odoti as “pulsating and mesmeric and full of rhythmic feel.”

Radio Milwaukkee DJ Marcus Doucette puts Odoti at first place in his “Top Ten Albums of 2018,” noting that “This dope outfit chopping up old African voodoo rhythms for a far more modern game has Togolese roots and a funk as fresh as their name. I expected Otodi to be a good album but it’s really so good that I couldn’t keep it off this list. It’s a modern masterpiece of African funk and dance music par excellence.”

About the recording of Odoti, the website FunkDub notes the following.

Recorded using vintage instruments and material from the 70’s, the “grigris” (or lucky charms) proved to be the most effective way to ward off digital corruption of their music and return them to a tight-knit group. This invincible trance rhythm, inherited from James Brown and Fela, icons of Funk and Afrobeat, becomes trident when joined by Mawu, the creative voodoo divinity hidden in each of the group’s notes. This inspiration transcends their spirit of communion, plunges them deeply into Mother Earth and results in the telepathic trance which is directly connected to Solo’s native Togo.

Below is the colorful, Rubik's Cube-inspired music video for “Tata Fatiguée,” one of the many standout tracks on Otodi. It's followed by an excerpt from an insightful piece by David Hutchear which delves further into the vodum (or voodoo) spirituality of Peter Solo and the music of Vaudou Game. Hutchear's piece was first published in 2017 in the British music magazine Mojo.

“Vodun without music is not vodun, brother,” laughs Peter Solo, leader of the Lyon-based octet Vaudou Game. “If you know Togo, we don’t have any kind of harmonic instrument like balafon or kora; the only things we have are percussion, vocals and bells. It’s about the rhythm. No arrangements. You let people get into the groove to find themselves, get into a trance and get to the next level.”

. . . [T]he first thing anybody ever asks Solo about his backstory – his mother was not only a successful businesswoman, she was also a vodunsi, or to put it in Hollywood terms, a priestess of voodoo (known as “vodun” in West Africa), and Solo’s music is rooted in those traditions. . . . “Vodun is not something negative . . .” [says Solo]. “That’s a film version. No vodun is a culture, a way of living and an art. . . . My mother taught me to respect nature, be in harmony with nature, talk to nature. That’s vodun. I was born in this culture and I believe in it and practice it, and Vaudou Game was born to talk about vodun.”

A backing musician in Togo, where he played guitar for visiting stars, Solo wound up in London with new music to grasp: reggae, Nigerian juju, gospel and salsa.

“I played all those musics but I never did my own thing. I wasn’t ready, and those guys were very bad good, you know? I had to go to school.”

It was the attitude to his religion, though, that pushed him towards making his own music.

“I couldn’t talk about it openly. People would say, ‘This is sorcery, evil, evil, you will die if you speak about vodun.’”

Things changed when he started mixing James Brown with veterans and fellow believers El Rego and Roger Damawuzan (Solo’s uncle) and Orchestre Poly Rythmo De Cotonou. Finding the same energy in funk and vodun, he realised that to stay true to his culture meant going right back to nature: digital music was forbidden.

“We had a 15-track Magnetophon. I fought with my band for the first time. I said no digital, no computer, no anything. We rehearsed, rehearsed, rehearsed. Recording was one shot. If people love it they love it. If they don’t we know that we did something naturally/ One shot. Bang, bang, bang. Pure sound. Natural sound. Vodun sound.”

– David Hutchear
January 24, 2017

Previously featured musicians at The Wild Reed:
Dusty Springfield | David Bowie | Kate Bush | Maxwell | Buffy Sainte-Marie | Prince | Frank Ocean | Maria Callas | Loreena McKennitt | Rosanne Cash | Petula Clark | Wendy Matthews | Darren Hayes | Jenny Morris | Gil Scott-Heron | Shirley Bassey | Rufus Wainwright | Kiki Dee | Suede | Marianne Faithfull | Dionne Warwick | Seal | Sam Sparro | Wanda Jackson | Engelbert Humperdinck | Pink Floyd | Carl Anderson | The Church | Enrique Iglesias | Yvonne Elliman | Lenny Kravitz | Helen Reddy | Stephen Gately | Judith Durham | Nat King Cole | Emmylou Harris | Bobbie Gentry | Russell Elliot | BØRNS | Hozier | Enigma | Moby (featuring the Banks Brothers) | Cat Stevens | Chrissy Amphlett | Jon Stevens | Nada Surf | Tom Goss (featuring Matt Alber) | Autoheart | Scissor Sisters | Mavis Staples | Claude Chalhoub | Cass Elliot | Duffy | The Cruel Sea | Wall of Voodoo | Loretta Lynn and Jack White | Foo Fighters | 1927 | Kate Ceberano | Tee Set | Joan Baez | Wet, Wet, Wet | Stephen “Tin Tin” Duffy | Fleetwood Mac | Jane Clifton | Australian Crawl | Pet Shop Boys | Marty Rhone | Josef Salvat | Kiki Dee and Carmelo Luggeri | Aquilo | The Breeders | Tony Enos | Tupac Shakur | Nakhane Touré | Al Green | Donald Glover/Childish Gambino | Josh Garrels | Stromae | Damiyr Shuford

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