Dowdelin ‘Carnaval Odyssey’ LP/CD (Underdog) 5/5

For a group whose name is a play on a word meaning slow and idle, the French-Caribbean trio Dowdelin are anything but. From the moment you press play you find yourself transported to a fireworks display. The rapid-fire rhythms that greet you leave no space for idleness; you must move. The Lyons based trio have carved out an exciting space for themselves with their debut album Carnaval Odyssey. They take existing conventions and turn them inside themselves, creating something wholly theirs – what they call Creole Afro-Futurism. Drawing inspiration from multiple sources, Dowdelin is able to explore the outsides and in-betweens, almost mocking existing boundaries. The group takes pieces from dancehall, jazz, R&B, and the traditional gwo ka rhythms of Guadeloupe and fuses them with contemporary electronic music, all sung in the vocalist’s native French Creole.

As the album begins, you are struck immediately with the boundary breaking beats. Within the first few moments you know that you are bearing witness to something quite extraordinary. The opener “Laissé Mwen” is the perfect introduction to the band’s joyfully raucous sound and their creative philosophy. “Laissé Mwen,” begins with these boisterous horns, which catch you off guard just enough to leave you vulnerable and ready to surrender to the warm, spirited sounds that await you. Each moment offers something different, leaving you a bit breathless, but it’s the kind of breathlessness you feel after your lover kisses you for the first time. A breathless that is full of excitement and possibility. Those moments are what Dowdelin is all about; the balancing of disparate sounds in a way that makes you question why they ever existed apart. This refusal to be categorized, to fit their sound in a pretty, easily defined little box applies to people too.

Olivya, the vocalist, lives in Lyon, France but has her roots in the former French colony of Martinique. The entire concept of Carnaval Odyssey celebrates the fact that she refuses to choose which home to love more, which person to be. Much like the way they blend seemingly unrelated styles of music, Dowdelin also challenges us to unite those parts of ourselves that seem to exist separate from the others. How can a person embrace the customs and cultures of their ancestors while living an otherwise unconnected life? Well, listen to “Eléphants Roses” or “Jay Pal”; they will give you some ideas. The audacious bravery to play music in French Creole, to bring that ancestral flavor to a space that hasn’t previously allowed for that sort of exploration should shake you to your core. And when you listen to “Carnaval Odyssey”, it will. The album challenges you to be free, to avoid the roles you are supposed to inhabit and to explore what living feels like for you. This is some real spiritual alchemy.

Underneath it all is an air of celebration. As if they’re telling us the way forward lives inside the party. And it is party music. “Ka Fwo Bit” seduces you out onto the dance floor – even if it’s just your living room – and into the celebration. But, Carnaval Odyssey is not the messy parties of our youth that we struggled to piece together the next morning. This party is the sophisticated and artsy kickback of our evolving adulthood. This album is the difference between who you are and who you want to be, reminding you with each track that (s)he’s right there under the surface. Carnaval Odyssey leaves you with just one question, where can I hear more?

Molly Gallegos