One sultry summer evening in 1994, I had the pleasure of talking with Dr John, ‘The Night Tripper’ (aka Mack Rebenneck), about his early life in New Orleans and his initiation into the cult of voodoo. many years later as my fascination with voodoo was then purely academic (at the time I was writing a book on comparative religions, ‘Revelations-The Wisdom of the Ages’.) I had played with voodoo themes on an early song of mine ‘Jumbee’ and was to do so again with ‘Voodoo Doll’, but I didn’t get serious with Baron Samedi until very recently.
I don’t know what possessed me (as we say in England) but something certainly did over the course of a few days when I succumbed to the temptation to experiment with singing along to drum patterns rather than writing ‘conventional’ songs by working The secrets he shared with me that day I didn’t put into practice until through a sequence of chords on an instrument.
To my surprise as soon as I opened my mouth something entirely unexpected came out. They were raw, primitive chants sung ‘in tongues’ (ie wordless sounds) which soon formed ‘verses’ and chorus’ like the call and response hymns that Baptist congregations produce when the spirit moves them, or as I imagine our forebears created when moved by the nature, animal and ancestor spirits they worshiped.
I didn’t stop until I had exhausted all rhythmic variations and had 22 complete chants. I then added simple counter melodies and answering phrases on flute, organ and marimba.
It was only later that a friend and practicing shaman, told me that this was a common ritualistic practice
that shaman call Power Songs.
But what to do with them? I took my rough demo/sketches to a film composer acquaintance who recreated them note-for-note in preparation for what I imagined would be a voodoo themed soundtrack to the 1932 Bela Lugosi film ‘White Zombie’ which had very little music but wonderful imagery. The film soundtrack didn’t get made but the project haunted me and when I eventually met Italian rock journalist
Max Marchini and was invited to join his illustrious company of artists and compatriots, I naturally took the opportunity to see if we could complete this long cherished album.
I then wrote French lyrics to fit the chants and was fortunate to have a French friend, Cathy Viale, to help me translate them into creole as well as a superb female vocalist and dear friend,
Paola Tagliaferro, to sing them with the gravitas that the role of the High Priestess required.
Fortunately, Max also succeeded in persuading me to write some new songs on the same subject and resurrect a couple of unreleased songs that I had only demoed at that point. My ‘primitive’
voodoo chants became the core of a more ambitious and fully realized album thanks to a large ‘family’ of musicians like Paolo Tofani, Annie Barbazza, The Warm Morning Brothers, Lorenzo, Beppe, Sergio, Yuston, Max and Alberto themselves, who gave their time and talents so generously.
And of course to Dr John, who I suspect was with me in spirit when Dumbahla spoke