Reviews October 7, 2016

A few brisk chops of rhythm guitar, a rock-solid James Brown-style funk beat, and we are back in familiar Vaudou Game territory. The new album Kidayú, out now on Hot Casa Records, opens with “Natural Vaudou,” an impassioned celebration of vaudou/vodun in a heavy funk rhythm.

The mighty sextet Vaudou Game, based in Lyon, France, is led by Peter Solo, guitarist, singer, songwriter and vaudou evangelist from Aneho-Glidi, Togo. With the release of their debut album Apiafo in 2014, they unleashed a clearly recognizable style that strongly evokes the heavy sounds of ’60s and ’70s Afro-funk from Benin and Togo, groups like Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou and Roger Damawuzan. Yet Solo’s original compositions, some based on tonalities of the ritual songs of vaudou, are striking for maintaining fidelity to the style with power, creativity, and even originality. Vaudou Game’s music is throwback, retro, but also unique and unmistakably their own style.

The pace of the album picks up with the hard-driving funk tune “Chérie Nye.” The melody passes from Solo’s adamant lead to the group’s youthful vocal response, and on to the crisp two-piece horn section.

This overlapping waterfall effect is even more pronounced on “La Vie C’est Bon,” the first single from the record. The chorus comes in hot with the word bon—good in French—popping out and punctuating the steady backbeat and nasal keyboard lines.

In a 2015 interview with Afropop Worldwide, Peter Solo told us that the word "Game" in the band name is a play on the French word gamme which means scale or tonality. He was referring specifically to a minor tonality used in sacred vaudou music, one of the main influences on Solo’s composition style. On the new album, “Don’t Go” is a great example of this tonality, and the churning guitar and drum rhythms have hints of ceremonial percussion patterns.

The final tune on the recording, “Locataire,” also uses this tonality. Building on a bed of hypnotic bass and minimal drums, Solo intones a poem in French, speaking of a life philosophy that is rooted in vaudou teachings—“This house doesn’t belong to you/This car doesn't belong to you/We are all renters here, nothing belongs to us/Renters of the planet/Renters of life/ Dance, sing, blow like the wind! You too will disappear like the wind.”

The slamming funk tune “Elle Decide,” has a similar lyrical theme, translated from French: “Whether you like it or not/Either way, Nature decides.”

Then are a couple of tunes on Kidayú that diverge musically from the styles upon which the group has based their sound: “On Se Pousse” is an original song in classic Ghanaian-style sikyi highlife, recalling masters like Pat Thomas and K. Gyasi. It is almost uncanny how well the Franco-Togolese group performs this style, truly a testament to their musicianship. “On Se Pousse” is differentiated from the inspiration sources mostly by Peter Solo’s vocals in French and Mina.

Then there’s “La Dette,” a straight four-on-the-floor Afro-disco. While it has all the right synth sounds and forward-pushing energy, something feels lacking or forced in the group’s performance of this particular retro style.

A favorite on the album is the Afro-funk tune “Revolution,” which hits with a powerful ensemble intro and a deep pocket groove. Solo’s English vocals weave and duck around the rhythm, setting up the chorus, “Revolution/Revolution, we need!” punctuated by soaring fuzz-wah guitar solos.

The slow shuffle-ballad “Lonlon” resembles “Ata Calling” from the debut album. While it is an effective song to start the third quarter of the album, I can’t help wondering if Vaudou Game is recycling some ideas, and running the risk of losing creative momentum as a result.

Overall Kidayú sounds very good, and we highly recommend it. Despite new stylistic divergences, the album is dominated by their signature mid-tempo funk rhythms. That said, Vaudou Game is definitely a unique force in the world of revivalist, retro African music, and we are still impatiently waiting for them to make their U.S. debut! We featured live Vaudou Game performances in our “Voodoo To Go Festival” program, which covered the inaugural Voodoo To Go Festival in Utrecht, Netherlands in 2015, and we can attest to their excellent live energy.

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