Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra ‘A.H.E.O’ CD/LP/Dig (Glitterbeat) 4/5

afro-haitian-experimental-orchestraHaiti has a special place in the historical roots of the African diaspora and this manifested itself in the retaining of African musical roots, combined with regional influences in the Caribbean. This pioneering release, inspired by the director of the French Institute on the island of Haiti, Corinne Micaelli, and with guitarist Mark Mulholland, leader of the musical side of the project, aims to bring together acoustic roots, psychedelic guitar and electronica keyboards in a heady mix that on the whole works extremely well. it comes across as an updated take on Salif Keita’s memorable ‘Soro’ album where modern western instrumentation and African voicings fused in perfect harmony and while the vocals are not nearly as distinctive here, the use of instrumentation is both creative and convincing.
There is certainly an authenticity to the heavy African beats with layers of synths on ‘Bade Zile’, which takes a leaf out of the classic William Onyeabor albums with lovely chopped rhythm guitar riffs. Of course having master Afro-Beat drummer Tony Allen on hand ensures a constantly propelling rhythm section and so it proves on the stunning build up of tension and release on ‘Yanvalou’ with collective chants and a compelling bass line.African instrumentation in the form of what sounds like the marimba is a feature of ‘Pa Bat Kow’, which has a male rap part-way through and female-led vocals. This writer warmed to the rawness of the recording sound with an Afro-Beat undercurrent on a piece such as ‘Wongola’, complete with bass line intro and male chanting.

Only on the rock-dominated guitar number, ‘Chay la Lou’, does the music become a tad tuneless. Ideally, the album could do with a few more leisurely paced numbers and it is left to the final track, ‘Mon ami Tezin’, to demonstrate that melodic guitar and keyboards allied with sensitive percussive accompaniment can still make for thrilling music.

Tim Stenhouse