Album Review : Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers – Somanti : Vodou energy meets electro dub intensity to break new ground.

The Breakdown

There’s a real intuitive connection here between the physicality of the traditional drums, the shamanic chorus and the electronic detailing, a combination that’s fierce and free flowing.
Bongo Joe 8.8

The partnership between Haitian mizik rasin (or roots music) collective Chouk Bwa and Brussels electronic beat masters The Ångströmers hasn’t exactly had a smooth ride. First connecting in 2016 around Rokskilde Festival time, the idea of fusing potent Vodou sounds with the dance informed, dub wise beat reductions felt like a good one. A couple of years later after a run of wild live performances, the Chouk Bwa/ Ångströmers collaboration was ready to be captured. Their first album through Bongo Joe, ‘Vodou Alé ’ stepped out way beyond any Haitian roots meets Belgian minimalism tag, and wowed punters and voyeurs alike with its hypnotic momentum and vibrant songs. A big tour was planned then sunk by COVID.

The following wilderness years prevented anything but virtual contact and sporadic live experiments with a stripped back Chouk Bwa. Last year a couple of fine EPs emerged from this distanced working, Ayiti Kongo Dub #1 and #2, harder edged and less expansive but still maintaining the partnership’s vital momentum. Then in May ’22, the physical reunion between the two bands was possible and the European tour was re-launched. Taking no chances this time around, Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers added three days to the gig schedule for recording and the new album ‘Somanti’ took shape.

It’s an album that gushes with spontaneity, still on a roll with live adrenaline and maybe feeling the benefit of less time for over-thinking. ‘Somanti’ emphatically exposes the refreshed heart and soul of this enthralling band from the off. ‘Djopipi’ Henris’s forceful vocal incantations announce the title track, demanding attention until the cross-rhythm voices join the conversation. Galloping djembes and stomping bass thumps raise the dust as electro shocks and deep shudders resonnate. There’s a real intuitive connection here between the physicality of the traditional drums, the shamanic chorus and the electronic detailing, a combination that’s fierce and free flowing.

That’s one of the key differences between this latest chapter in the Chouk Bwa/ Ångströmers’ story and their ‘Voudoo Alé’ debut. Here the focus is on a commitment to transmit the spiritual depth of Creole culture and the transformative power of trance. ‘Somanti’ is authentic ‘lost in music’ music. Fèy nan bwa keeps close to these parameters, hypnotic chanting and hip rolling rhythms that make connections with afro-cuban folk and even carnival beats. It’s a joyous number, the rich tonal variation in the Chouk Bwa voices making for the crispest call and response exchanges. Then there’s the tense sway of Monche Pyè where acoustic techno gets re-defined in the hopping tempo and shanty like downturns in the melody seeking vocal.

Perhaps it’s the old original Sala that enjoys the most radical re-imagining. Built around a vibrant call out from Henris and answered briskly by the Chouk Bwa chorus, this is where the Ångströmers’ electro undercurrents add dynamism to the song’s ceremonial surge. As the vocal unison gathers force in the final moments, the bubbling synths increase the frenzy alongside quirky post-rave bleeps, whoops and flutters. A more raucous almost post punk version of Sala featured on the Dub #2 EP from last year and ‘Somanti’ also taps into two other reworks from #1 of the Ayeti Kongo Dub series. Still that’s in no way a short change move.

The pacey Agwetawoyo ups the density of the layered vocal chorus but keeps the hyperactive rush of the rhythms. The track wouldn’t be out of place with the best offerings from Nyege Nyege tapes. Then there’s the fabulous bass booming minimalism of Vini wè m, which dials down the frenetic pace of the earlier version without losing its relentless terms of engagement. Such inventive reconnections with previous takes shows the serious intent that Chouk Bwa and The Ångströmers bring to their project. What they relish is exploring and re-exploring the complexity of these ancient rhythms, rituals and rhymes, working in and between the lines of tradition and finding new thrills.

That boundary pushing gets sustained through to the ‘Somanti’s closing tracks, two further inspired reconnections with traditional Haitian folklore. Kote nap mete Iwa yo, part spoken, part acapella calls out to unknown spirits and quivers with mystery as volcanic rumblings get summoned by the Ångströmers. As the album tips into a inter-rhythm techno sign off on Viyaya Keke you wonder if there’s any energy left ….but inevitably there is. Skittering, scuttling, reverb rolling locomotion sees the group shaking a ritual stomp to somewhere on the edge. There are off beats, percussive codes and a descent into unsettling hysterics.

In many ways on ‘Somanti’ this close knit collective have returned to the natural disciplines of trance and risked losing those listeners won over by the harmonies and songlines of their debut. But in making that step back Chouk Bwa & The Angstromers have made a mighty leap in terms shaping an individual sound as fresh as early Congotronics and as committed as BCUC. Album three is getting ready to astonish.

Get your copy of ‘Somanti’ by Chouk Bwa & The Ångströmers from your local record store or direct fron Bongo Joe HERE

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