Picks and Pans Review: Break the Chain (kase Chenn)

UPDATED 02/10/1992 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 02/10/1992 at 01:00 AM EST

Rara Machine

Rara, a traditional Haitian folk music long associated with Carnival, is here transformed into a powerful weapon for social change by percussionist-singer Clifford Sylvain's infectious 11-piece band.

Break the Chain, their first U.S. release, displays a potent mix of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and high-tech recording techniques. Although the lyrics are sung almost entirely in Haitian Creole, English-speaking audiences need not worry, since the real voice of this band comes from its multilayered percussion. "Give me a drum," Sylvain exclaims in "Menyo," the stirring opening track, "and I'll show you what it's all about!"

He does. And on songs like "Rara Mouvé (A Mean Rara)," "Woulé (Turning Around)," and "Zetwal (A Star)," he and the band chum out a high-powered funk. The various elements that comprise this heady brew—the call-and-response vocals, the punchy Latin-tinged horn riffs, the rock-steady bass accompaniment—all play second fiddle to the drums. The intricate rhythms of the congas and other percussion instruments create an irresistible groove, whether the song concerns the vicissitudes of love or the struggle for democracy in Haiti.

It remains to be seen whether Rara Machine's passionate cultural renaissance is an isolated phenomenon or the harbinger of a new wave of sounds. In the meantime, at least the news out of Haiti isn't all bad. (Shanachie)

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