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Malou Beauvoir: Spiritwalker
by George Graham
(Independent Release as broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/19/2018)
Some of the most interesting world music comes from the fusion of various cultures and styles, and a lot of that arises from either a combination of artists from different backgrounds collaborating, or artists who themselves are cross-cultural. This week we have a good example of the latter, an American born performer who brings together music from her ethnic background with lots of other influences from around the world. It’s Malou Beauvior and her new release is called Spirtwalker.
Malou Beauvior was born in Chicago to Haitian parents, and grew up in New York. She comes from a musical family, with her brother Jean Beauvoir having a successful rock career performing with classic rocker Gary U.S. Bonds, and was member of the punk group Plasmatics and also writing for and producing the Ramones. Malou Beauvoir moved to Paris at age 15 and there attended the American University. While keeping an interest in music and art, she pursued a business degree, obtaining an MBA and settled into a senior position at a tech company, but by the latter 1990s, decided to focus on her musical career. She sang jazz and performed in places including Dubai, Beirut, London and Paris. She currently divides her time between New York and Brussels.
Ms. Beauvoir has recorded some jazz albums which received some international attention, but for her new recording, she decided to turn to her Haitian heritage, and the Vaudou religion for inspiration. She recorded in New York with an international roster of musicians from Cuba, Japan, the US, and another Haitian American. The result is an engaging album that is likely to have wide appeal among world music fans, with high-quality musicianship, strong arrangements, and appealing songs. The influences include Caribbean, hints of African, Cuban, and a little reggae. Ms. Beauvoir has a powerful but refined voice reminiscent of Angelique Kidjo, and sings in both Haitian Creole and some English. Most of the songs on the album are adaptations of traditional Haitian folk songs, and lyrically, deal with some of the spirits that are part of the Caribbean Vaudou religion, which also extends into Cuba, and thus the Cuban influence in some of the music. The overall sound is quite diverse from one piece to the next.
The cast of musicians on the album is fairly large, but two of the key people are bassist Chico Boyer and keyboard man Cheff Loncher. They share production credit with Ms. Beauvoir.
Opening is a piece called Rasembleman written by a contemporary Haitian performer Tito Bissainte. According to the liner notes, in the context of the song, the term means “join hands in unity.” The piece has an appealing jazzy African influenced beat. <<>>
The following track Papa Loko is named after one of the Vaudou spirits. It features Japanese jazz pianist Yayoi Ikawa. The piece builds in momentum from a kind of ballad with English lyrics <<>> to an energetic crescendo with the lyrics in Creole. <<>>
Kouzen a traditional song, is given a reggae treatment again featuring lyrics in English and Creole. <<>>
More laid back in sound is Nwaye which was co-written by Ms. Beauvoir and another Haitian musician, Paul Beaubrun, addresses the state of the world, especially after the hurricanes that caused devastation in Haiti. <<>>
Yoyo is another traditional Haitian song that Ms. Beauvoir translated into English and is given a very appealing Cuban-influenced jazzy setting. <<>>
The track Simbi Dlo is another piece named after a Vaudou spirit, the snake spirit of the river. The mostly acoustic guitar setting is another interesting textural touch on this sonically diverse album. <<>>
There’s a Man is a track with another interesting sonic pastiche, featuring some string sounds, juxtaposed with some of the beats of contemporary pop. <<>>
The album closes with another piece about a Vaudou spirit, Papa Damballah, in this case the spirit of creation. It’s a contemplative-sounding song, in which Ms. Beauvoir provides a spoken translation to the Creole lyrics. <<>>
Spiritwalker the new album by Hatian-American vocalist and composer Malou Beauvoir is another excellent example of how the adept mixing of genres can result in music that is not only interesting but thorough appealing. The Haitian scene has not been particularly well-represented on the world music stage but this album brings together some traditional Haitian folk songs, including those associated with the Vaudou spirituality, with the artist and gathered musicians’ cross-cultural makeup and background. Ms. Beauvoir brings the power and technical precision of a good jazz singer to the mix, without losing the connection to the Caribbean folk, including Haitian and Cuban and a little Jamaican. The backing musicians add to the album’s eclecticism. It’s a fairly short recording at about 35 minutes, but it packs a lot of sonic interest in that time.
Our grade for audio quality is close to an “A.” The sound of both the instrumentation and Ms. Beauvoir’s vocals is clean and warm. There are some atmospheric effects that work quite well. Dynamic range, how well the recording maintains the span of volume from soft to loud, is mediocre. Like most albums these days, it was compressed to make it loud almost all the time.
While the commercial pop music industry generates mostly a lot of derivative and tediously boring music, the world music scene has long provided refuge from that with fresh often intriguing sounds. Malou Beauvoir’s excellent new album is a further affirmation of that fact.
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