Santiman

The Creole Choir of Cuba

Released 11 February 2013

  1. Preludio
  2. Llegada
  3. Camina Como Chencha
  4. Fey Oh Di Nou
  5. Simbi
  6. Soufle Van (Mangaje)
  7. Pale, Pale
  8. Panama Mwen Tonbe
  9. Balada de Annaise
  10. Jubileo
  11. Pou Ki Ayiti Kriye
  12. Juramento
  13. Tripot
  14. Boullando
  15. Marasa Elu

Liner notes

The Creole Choir of Cuba are six women and four men. In performance, they use percussion to accompany themselves – Cuban claves and a pair of conga drums emblazoned with ‘naïve art’ scenes and the words ‘Grupo Vocal… Desandann’ – their original name, and a clue to members’ roots. Although they hail from Cuba, much of their music draws on the vodou folklore of neighbouring Haiti.

The lyrics of many songs tell the stories of important people and events in Haitian history. Common themes include oppression, misery, censorship and imprisonment – on a socio-economic and political level. Haiti’s much misunderstood religion called vodou (or ‘voodoo’) has inspired a strong tradition of rousing folk songs, many expressing solidarity with the poor, and resistance to Haiti’s equally vigorous tradition of tyrannical ‘leaders’. The choir’s songs often use humour to confront fears and problematic situations with strength, which is typically Haitian.

Singing in both Spanish and Haitian Creole, a mixture of Spanish, English and West African languages, their eclectic repertoire includes more than 100 songs. They are not a traditional choir; in Cuba, each region has its own ‘choir’, which is government-sponsored and fully professional, rather than affiliated to any church. For 32 years, Emilia Diaz Chavez has been the director of El Coro Profesional de Camagüey, named after their provincial hometown. Its members are trained in all types of music, from Renaissance to contemporary. In 1994, Emilia decided to found a smaller group, with members drawn only from Cuba’s largest ethnic minority – people of Haitian descent. Ever since the Haitian Revolution, which led to the founding of the world’s first ‘black republic’ at the dawn of the 19th century, Haiti has produced successive waves of emigrants. Many ended up in Cuba, where, despite official protestations to the contrary, they often experience racism.

In 1996, the group were invited to Haiti for the first time. They travelled around the country, researching songs to add to the ones they had already learnt from their parents and grandparents. In 2002 they went back and spent longer. Having become well known and made many new friends on subsequent visits, they felt compelled to return and perform there after the calamitous earthquake of January, 2010.

"We had a complete need inside us to go there and share their pain, and go and see friends and family that we’d met. It was a very, very painful experience, but at the same time it was also a comforting experience because we felt we were able to give something to them. We were trying to relax them, trying to make them smile. giving them the strength to continue having faith in life. We worked with lots of people in very desperate situations – with orphans, children who had no family members left. We made them sing, we made them dance. They wanted to come back with us! And because we were able to speak to them in their own language, they felt very comfortable with us." Emilia Diaz Chavez

Listen

Reviews

  • Captivating:interlocking vocal melodies the move between rousing defiance on Peze Cafe and heartfelt lament on L'Atibonite Oh; all sung over subtle Caribbean percussion that knows better than to get in the way of such beautiful voices. Q Magazine (UK)
  • They sing with vibrant intensity of love and homesickness, heroes defying colonial monsters, and survival against the odds. Their rich, textured harmonies and brash percussion make them thrilling in live performance. MOJO (UK)
  • These descendants of Haitian migrant labourers long resident in Cuba make a powerful, invocatory sound that has a huge impact live. There's still plenty of brio on this disc, a blend of haunting, near-operatic Christian fervour and visceral African drive, bellowed out by big, charismatic voices and an equally spirited chorus. The Daily Telegraph (UK)
  • The Creole Choir Of Cuba has become the island's most celebrated export narrowly edging out cigars and rum. The music was almost operatically joyous, as music sprung from unhappiness often has to be. The Financial Times (UK)
  • The Creole Choir of Cuba merges spirit and showmanship. The New York Times (USA)
  • On Tande-La, the complex, earthy vocalizing manages to be at once elemental and cinematic, a soundtrack for the 21st century Caribbean....now's the time to steep yourself in their radiantly intelligent and humane recordings. Santa Barbara Independent (USA)
  • Exhilarating and meticulous at the same time... particularly strong and moving. The Boston Globe (USA)
  • One of World Music Centrals Top World Music Albums of 2011 World Music Central (USA)

Further Listening

  • Tande-La

    The Creole Choir of Cuba

    Released 03 October 2010

    Irresistible melodies driven by richly textured harmonies, shifting Caribbean rhythms with a very original root bass sound, this is impassioned singing by a unique group celebrating roots, resistance and the irresistible rhythms of life. In the words of the glorious opening track 'Edem Chanté' - Help Us Sing!
  • Tambolero

    Totó la Momposina

    Released 26 June 2015

    You don't normally get the chance to go back in time and reimagine a classic album like La Candela Viva but creating Tambolero has been a challenge and a delight. It’s become a celebration of Totó's career: six decades dedicated to preserving, researching and developing an ancestral tradition, the identity of a people, passed down through the generations. 

Further reading

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What Heat follows the band's 2017 debut, and features Jules Buckley as orchestra arranger/conductor.

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