Rarely does an album grip you from quite literally the first note. From the opening note of Preludio, you’re hooked. The haunting lone voice grips you and holds you, and won’t go. It’s nothing short of beautiful.
This album contains songs which from generations of Haitian emigrants, passed down and given a lifting shot of life. Exiled once from Africa to Haiti, then to Cuba, the members of the Choir are descended from former freed Haitian slaves. Songs of freedom and hope with melodies that will lift your soul.
Santiman is the follow-up to the widely acclaimed Tande-La released in 2010. Produced by John Metcalfe (Morrissey, Blur, John Cale) and recorded at Peter Grabriels Real World Studios, the arrangements are enhanced by several musicians who were coincidentally recording at the same time for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad celebrations. The songs, handed down for generations are sung in both Spanish and Haitian Creole (a French/English/West African mix) and tell tales of survival and poverty, but also the celebration of life.
There are songs that you might recognise the melody to – Camina Como Chencha being one – a Guaracha, which is a song with a humorous theme. A typically Cuban sounding song about a girl with ‘gambadas’ (translating as bandy legs!). I defy you to not want to get up and dance, I defy you to even keep still!
The intro to Llegada bears a quite remarkable resemblance to Soul Limbo by Booker T & The MG’s, a far cry from the theme of the song - poverty stricken life on an island full of drought. It does however have a great wall of sound comprising of vocals from both sexes, and, a quite amazing female vocal the likes of which I have never heard before. Rising and rising to a quite superb crescendo.
Despite having a very short moment that sounds like Paul McCartney’s The Frog Song, Fey Oh Di Nou transcends into another magical song. The sort of song that you feel completely at rest with, one where all the problems of the World disappear for three and a half minutes. Voices blend together over a simple backing of slow percussion and nothing else. Possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of music you will ever hear in your life.
Fidel Romero Miranda has a voice that sounds like it’s been around the block a few times –weathered and torn, but repaired again, a jazz piano thrown in courtesy of guest musician Tom Cawley adds another dimension and direction to the album.
Several songs on the album are almost entirely vocal, adding a haunting, ethereal feel to the tracks, Soufle Van (Mangaje) is another such song. Ending with a lone female voice, you really need a few seconds to reflect and catch your breath before Pale Pale starts. It’s over ten minutes of paced pleasure. Maybe more what you’d expect from Cuban music, it’s dance beat hides the true message of a protest song based on folklore over previous military atrocities.
Written by Choir member, Teresita Romero Miranda (she also sings one of the solo’s), Pou Ki Ayiti Kriye starts slowly but soon reaches a more recognisable tempo describing the suffering of Haitian people. The pain of love is brought with the emotional Juramento where the whole Choir lend their voices.
This album is one not to be missed. It will enthral you, and, it will take you on a musical journey that you rarely ever travel on. To quote the Choir Director, Emilia Diaz Chavez – “Santiman gives us great hope and joy.......it comes from our hearts”.