When French-Brussels producer duo The Ångströmers tune their vintage electronica to the Afro-Caribbean chants and polyrhythms of the Haitian voodoo club Chouk Bwa, it's all hands on deck for soul and hips.
The musical alliance that Brussels artists Frédéric Alstadt and Nicolas Esterle have forged with their Haitian brothers from Chouk Bwa is without a doubt one of the most penetrating and inventive artistic collaborations of recent years. The producer duo, operating as The Ångströmers, have tuned their vintage machines to the traditional voodoo rhythm of three vocalists and three drummers from the Caribbean.
The two groups once found each other thanks to Michael Wolteche, their current manager. He has set up a Zoom connection from a German B&B, where the group spent the night after a successful performance in Berlin. Alstadt: “At one point, he told me to listen to this incredible Haitian music group that performed ancient voodoo rituals on stage and was coming to Europe. Because I have this massive interest in traditional trance music, I did as he suggested. Not much later, Nicolas and I assisted them with their first recordings.”
Soon, the idea of mixing the energy from Haiti with the contemporary dub by these Brussels natives came up and when the group came back in September 2016, a performance at Café Central was immortalised on an EP. “Since then, we have been to Haiti where we were introduced to the local voodoo ceremonies.” A first album, Vodou Alé, was recorded at Les Ateliers Claus in Brussels. Performances at Womex, Roskilde and the Transmusicales in Rennes had caused some euphoria, but then Covid struck. “All intercontinental traffic suddenly came to a halt and we had to postpone our tour that was supposed to blow everyone away,” Wolteche says.
The message is still there more than two years later. Spiritual Creole call-and-response chants and the abstract polyrhythmic cadence of drums evoke the traditional Kongo ceremonies without making them seem ridiculous. “We are not afraid to lose ourselves in this sort of bond, because our culture is so strong,” says Gomez 'Djopipi' Henris, one of the three drummers. “We also trusted Michael because he had paid such close attention to our traditions.” That is also why, at first, computer rhythms and software were stubbornly avoided.
“Anything that could interfere with the fluidity of the rhythm was out of the question. Little by little, a true dialogue developed. What I realise now is that this leads to the craziest atonal sounds, which to some extent are in keeping with their voodoo ritual.”
“At home, our ceremonies often last several days,” says Maloune Prévaly, one of the choir members. “The lead singer summons the spirits. Amplified by the choir songs and the drums, they then take possession of the audience, who may or may not end up in a trance.”
But lovers of music have nothing to fear: “The big difference between a ritual in Haiti and a concert in Europe is that we don't really evoke the spirits on stage. We only transfer that energy. For the real thing, you have to go to Haiti.” That does not prevent musicians and listeners from falling into a trance. “Sometimes the energy is just too strong,” says Jean Claude “Sambaton” Dorvil, the group's lead singer. “But we guide everyone, provide an embracing environment.”
European audiences seem to appreciate this uninhibited exchange of energy. “We find that we appeal to a young, open-minded urban audience. Our performances here are all about vitality, brotherhood and connection. They should not be regarded as mere entertainment. We want to make people dance, but not without offering them a genuine musical experience. We are not demonstrating anything, we are sharing something and look after it together.”
To make it even more interesting, a new EP has just been released with a more compact sound: Ayiti Kongo Dub #1. Volume II will appear in November. “We wanted to explore the Kongo rhythms with two drummers and one voice,” says Esterle. “For that, we harked back to a tour from 2018, a more rhythmic style and more abstract beat. Call it our club-oriented side project. But do not worry, during the current tour we are playing the material with the whole gang.”
CHOUK BWA & THE ANGSTRÖMERS
28/7, 17.00, Recyclart Holidays, www.recyclart.be