Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. For today’s instalment, we’re sinking down into the deep rhythms and spacious, atmospheric production of ‘Vodou Alé’, the debut collaborative album by Chouk Bwa and The Ångstromers.
There are many different schools of thought in regards to how best to present and record the traditional music of any given culture from anywhere in the world. Some are included to present such time-tested lineage in a radical new context – perhaps blending it with some strand of populism – whilst others are more inclined to appeal to the traditionalists and purists. ‘Vodou Alé’, the recently released album by Haitian septet Chouk Bwa and Belgian duo The Ångstromers, offers something for itinerants of both camps. The former bring a passionate, urgent honesty to an album also inescapably influenced by the droning synthesizers and moody production-style of the latter. It’s a potent combination, albeit perhaps not one for purists of either musical lineage. The resultant record does blend well, though; Chouk Bwa lend not only their remarkably soulful voices but also a rhythmic urgency which is both complex and immediate. The Ångstromers, for their part, fill out the soundstage with buzzing electronics which place ‘Vodou Alé’ in a stylistically mixed field reminiscent of earlier attempts to bridge the differences between Western and African musical traditions, as seen in the latter portion of the ’80s and on into the early ’90s. The resultant record is distinctive, offering a clear-eyed sonic vision which is likely to attract many.
Swiss label Bongo Joe are the outfit which have released ‘Vodou Alé’. We previously covered another one of their recent releases – the intriguing archival compilation and collaboration with Sofa Records entitled ‘Meghreb K7 Club’ – here on Vinyl Corner and were impressed by the quality of the playback on that release. Although their vinyl pressing of ‘Vodou Alé’ is handled by a different pressing plant, that same high level of quality control is also present here. Although a limited edition colour vinyl version is available, the copy we’re reviewing here is the standard black vinyl pressing and it’s certainly an impressive slab of wax. Based upon a visual inspection, first impressions are certainly positive; it boasts clean surfaces free of the visual imperfections which all too often come along with modern pressings and, when spinning on the platter, it sits flat during playback, which is again hardly a given with modern pressings. Playback is no less impressive from an auditory perspective; we picked up on barely a crackle anywhere across the album and mastering is also impressive.
Although it’s clear that Bongo Joe put a lot effort into the audio itself, they’ve also released a very admirably presented and packaged release in ‘Vodou Alé’. The cover itself is fairly standard in construction; it bears a normal-width spine, is not gatefold and is wrought from mid-weight cardstock but the art direction is fantastic. The cover art is beautiful, suits the music well and, much to the label’s credit, the barcode is attached to the shrinkwrap as a sticker rather than bespoiling the art direction by being printed directly onto the cover. The most impressive element of this already attractively-presented release is doubtless the insert, however. It’s a four page fold-out which, in addition to offering full credits and an image of the artists, also offers the album’s lyrics in their original language, as well as translations in French and English. There are also footnotes included in the latter two languages which help to inform Western listeners of certain references in the lyrics which they may not otherwise understand. ‘Vodou Alé’ is a well-printed release which also shows a real consideration for its potentially multi-cultural audience. We haven’t written about a release as impressively presented as this in quite some time here on Vinyl Corner – and certainly not one released at such a moderate price-point.
Chouk Bwa and The Ångstromers’ ‘Vodou Alé’ makes for a beguiling listen likely to cross boundaries. Bongo Joe’s vinyl release is one which speaks of a real labour of love; it’s an impressive release from an auditory perspective thanks to a high-quality vinyl pressing and the presentation is also deeply considered.
Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – it would be great to hear from you!