Santiman

The Creole Choir of Cuba, 2013

Santiman is The Creole Choir's second album, and the follow up to Tande-la. Freedom songs that have been passed down through generations of Haitian emigrants in Cuba are brought to life with vibrant harmonies, lilting melodies and rich, deep Caribbean rhythms. A hefty dose of Cuban flair creates a rich, soulful sound that evokes their proud history of resistance and resilience.

The poignant songs on the album - many handed down through their families and learned from their grandparents - vividly express a broad range of emotion in both Haitian Creole (a mix of French, English and West African languages) and Spanish. Stories about survival despite abject poverty and potent cries from the heart mingle with extremely humorous and celebratory songs about everyday life.

Recorded at Real World Studios, Santiman was produced by composer/arranger John Metcalfe (Morrissey, Blur, John Cale, Peter Gabriel). The arrangements on several songs show an enrichment of the group's vocal harmonies through the addition of piano, flute and trumpet - which came about, quite by chance, as a group of musicians recording in another of Real World's studios were exploring the links between Cuba and West Africa as part of London's 2012 Cultural Olympiad celebrations. The parallels were clear, and the musicians naturally came together to experiment in an informal, relaxed atmosphere. From this session, flautist Dramane Dembele (from Burkina Faso) and trumpet player Paul Bilson (born in Ghana, now UK-based) feature on the album. The brilliant jazz pianist/composer, Tom Cawley, brings his distinct virtuosity to two tracks, "Simbi" and "Balada de Annaise".

Santiman opens with "Preludio" (Soloists: Marina Collazo Fernandez and Teresita Romero Miranda) - an introduction to a series of songs written by Emilia Diaz Chavez, based on Haitian writer and politician Jacques Roumain's book 'Gouverneurs de La Rosée' (Masters of the Dew) and set in nineteenth century Haiti. The story tells of Manuel who, returning from Cuba to Haiti after 15 years' absence ("Llegada"), brings a spirit of resistance and a determination to rescue his people from their resigned attitude and impoverished lives on the drought-ridden land. Finding a new source of water, he becomes the "master of the dew" ("Balada de Annaise" (Soloist: Yordanka Sanchez Fajardo)/ "Jubileo" (Soloist: Dalio Arce Vital)).

"Camina Como Chencha" ("Walk Like Chencha". Soloist: Marina Collazo Fernandez) is the most obviously Cuban sounding song. The tune is a Guaracha - a genre of Cuban popular music, usually with a humorous topic. This one talks about a girl who has gambadas (bandy) legs.

Voices blend sublimely in "Fey Oh Di Nou" ("Oh Leaves Tell Us". Soloist: Teresita Romero Miranda), which tells of a group trying to invoke the divine power of medicinal plants to heal a sick man. "Simbi" (Soloist: Fidel Romero Miranda) recounts the story of the goddess of fresh waters in Haitian tradition, who has been invited to a rite but something unknown prevents her. It features the spirited, jazz-tinged touch of guest pianist Tom Cawley.

Two songs fuse into one with "Soufle Van - Mangaje" (Soloist Yordanka Sanchez Fajardo). "Soufle Van" ("Blow Wind") is a nostalgic song originally sung by slaves in a boat in the middle of the sea, while "Mangaje" speaks of a man lost at sea - the only way to orientate himself is by the sun, but it is nighttime.

"Pale, Pale" ("Talk Talk". Soloist: Fidel Romero Miranda) is a Haitian protest song (by Boukan Guine), based on a folkloric song condemning the Duvalier government's military atrocities.

Someone's hat falling off is a bad omen in Haitian folklore. "Panama Mwen Tonbe" ("My Hat Fell Off". Soloists: Marina Collazo Fernandez and Teresita Romero Miranda) is the Creole Choir's take on a story about Florvil Hyppolite (president of Haiti 1889 to 1896), who failed to heed the bad omen of losing his hat and suffered the unfortunate consequences. Guest trumpet is by Paul Bilson, whose fluid, soulful playing - influenced by latin, ska, high-life, reggae and afro-beat - is a natural fit.

Initially heart-rending, then full of hope, "Pou Ki Ayiti Kriye?" ("Why Does Haiti Cry?" Soloists Teresita Romero Miranda and Fidel Romero Miranda) addresses the disproportionate suffering of Haiti's people. It was written by Teresita in the wake of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, where the Choir visited and undertook humanitarian efforts. The whole choir lend their lilting harmonies to "Juramento" ("A Promise") - a richly emotional song, written by Miguel Matamoros, which describes the pain of being in love.

On a lighter note, "Tripot" (Soloist: Marcelo Andres Luis) tells of a gossip rejected by the neighbourhood. Vibrant and lively, the rhythm is Konpa - a modern merengue and the national music genre of Haiti since the 1800s. The flute part is played by Dramane Dembele.

"Boullando" ("Ball On My Back". Soloist: Teresita Romero Miranda) is double meaning song telling the story of an adolescent girl who didn't listen to her mother's advice and got pregnant ("My mum told me not to eat coconuts, but I had some coconuts and now I'm carrying the ball."). The dynamic voices are backed by potent Haitian drumming and percussion.

Santiman closes with the captivating and soulful "Marasa Elu" ("Chosen Child"). Marina Fernando Collazo's heart-felt solo part leads the Choir in a story of an orphaned child begging for help.

Reviews

  • UNCUT - Top World Music Albums 2013 Santiman makes no. 5 in UNCUTs top 10 World Music Albums 2013. UNCUT (UK)
  • The Creole Choir of Cuba has matured artistically since its first international album... ....Tande-La. Santiman has a satisfying flow from celebration to solemnity, nostalgia and even playful humor; the Haitian folk song "Panama Mwen Tonbe" pokes fun at a horseman whose Panama hat has blown off in the wind. A dash of trumpet here and piano there add welcome texture to the group's sound. In the end, though, it's all about the vocals - clear, strong, committed and deeply informed by Caribbean history. NPR Music (USA)
  • Beautiful, celestial, uplifting:... excuse me while i check my thesaurus for more superlatives. There are more textures, more confidence, with everything from soaring choral pieces with harmonies honed from a lifetime of practical to upbeat Caribbean rhythm sections and rootsy West African stylings. Closing song, 'Maraasu Elu', a heartfelt solo by Marina Fernando...ties everything up with a delicate bow. Jazzwise (UK)
  • ...laying down its enchanting vocal harmonies... ...the ten member Creole Choir looks east to the kriol motherland, laying down its enchanting vocal harmonies in a playful and spirited percussive blend of mostly traditional songs with some ensemble originals. Froots Magazine (UK)
  • ...lush melodramatic melody is undeniable.. The choir's way with a lush melodramatic melody is undeniable, their virtuoso female soloists and tight harmony backlines calling to mind some of the great gospel choirs of the US. Songlines Magazine (UK)
  • ...it's all sung with ineffable grace. Intermittently accompanied by piano, flute and trumpet, the songs on Santiman - many handed down through their familes - blend yearnings for freedom with salty folklore ... all sung with ineffable grace. The Scotsman (UK)
  • ...fabulous follow-up... The soulful blend of the Choir's 10 voices and interplay of lead and chorus do the emotional heavy lifting, while percussion drives the singers on with exultant urgency... Guest trumpeter Paul Bilson and pianist Tom Cawley add spice to this fabulous follow-up to the Choir's Real World debut, Tande-La. 4**** Q Magazine (UK)
  • A Kaleidoscopic explosion... ...of musical and linguistic ingredients - bookended by soaring, celestial female voices, there are moments of deep melancholy, like the sombre spiritual "Balaida De Annaise" but the general mood is definately upbeat, as on "Simbi", where African-style party grooves meet Havana juke-joint swagger. Uncut Magazine (UK)
  • It's the sheer emotive power of the human voice that lies at the lies at the heart of Santiman... ...and nowhere it is that better demonstrated than on 'Pou Ki Ayiti Kriye' written by band member Teresita Miranda, in the aftermath of the 2010 Haitian earthquake, and on the powerful and soulfully emotional 'Marasa Elu' which closes this exquisite album. 4**** R2 Rock 'n' Reel Magazine (UK)
  • ...bright harmonies accompanied only by deep percussion. The Financial Times (UK)
  • Santiman is about as perfect as any record could ever get. The Creole Choir of Cuba is, in itself, one of the finest vocal groups in the world from any genre (including classical), and this record received top-tier production in the hands of composer/arranger John Metcalfe Worldmusic.about.com (Online )
  • bring a joyous bounce and groove to everything they touch, as well as a gospel-like intensity. ...these guys are a different kind of choir, and an amazing one. allmusic.com (Online USA)
  • Possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of music you will ever hear in your life. Louderthanwar.com (Online)
  • ...their art becomes more fine-honed... "Intermittently accompanied by piano, flute and trumpet, the songs on Santiman - many handed down through their familes - blend yearnings for freedom with salty folklore ... all sung with ineffable grace." The Scotsman (UK)
  • Simply joyous. Anyone who has seen them live will know how inspirational these singers - descendants of freed slaves from Haiti - can be. If their Real World debut attracted high praise, the passion overflows on this new collection... Rootsiness and sophistication go hand in hand as the centre of gravity shifts oh so subtly between Caribbean and Africa. Simply Joyous. The Sunday Times (UK)
  • ...rich vocal harmonies to exuberant Caribbean rhythm sections... There's everything from elegiac choral pieces with rich vocal harmonies to exuberant Caribbean rhythm sections that at times recall the spirit of Buena Vista Social Club whilst also evoking older roots that go back to West Africa. The Epoch Times (Online)
  • Sophisticated singing that could make this choir one of the best known in the world. Like all good choirs, they are best experienced live, especially as the six women and four men in the group are remarkable for their rousing stagecraft and ability to display their thrilling harmony work on anything from African-influenced dance pieces to songs with Western and Caribbean influences. Metcalfe's production involves the occasional use of jazzy piano, trumpet, flute and the sound of wind or birds. But a choir this good doesn't really need additional help. BBC (Online)
  • Their sound is quite remarkable...wordless basslines that simmer and swing. ...treating traditional folk melodies with a sophistication that is comparable in approach, if not quite sound, to Duke Ellington's gospel suites. The contrapuntal arrangements for powerful female voices in protest songs like 'Llegada' are complex, yet open enough to leave space for the soloists to ring out clear and true. The dance tunes, meanwhile, see the choir wielding cowbells and shakers in classic Cuban fashion, with the male voices providing wordless basslines that simmer and swing. The List (Online)
  • Vibrant and positive and strikes deep into your soul. Music News (Online)