Introducing: Achantè – A Portrait of Haitian Vodou

This is a brand new film that I composed the soundtrack/sound-design for: Here’s a trailer:

Achantè Extended Trailer from Mazibel on Vimeo.

It’s a 35 minute, image and music driven look at the vibrant, and often misrepresented, religion of Vodou (or Voodoo), native to Haiti. It’s directed by Emily McMehen, and also produced by Emily along with cinematographer Geoffrey Sautner (Mazibel Films). Last year, they invited me to score the film, and after seeing some of the early footage I was immediately enchanted.

You can read Emily and Geoffrey’s description of the film ‘here’, but to summarize:

The team arrived in Haiti just weeks before the devastating earthquake of January 12th, 2010, to begin researching the film. After the earthquake struck, they resisted the urge to document the devastation and relief efforts (or lackthereof), and instead spent time getting to know people within the Vodou community in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding countryside. As they gained the trust of the local Vodouisants, Emily and Geoffrey invited them to contribute something to the film (as they write):

‘In some cases the Vodouisants contributed stories of the Lwa (Vodou deities), but more often the participants preferred to be ‘mounted’ by the spirit they chose. In other words, they preferred to be possessed on camera… The concept of spiritual possession, perceived by most other religious groups as being dark or demonic in nature, or naive, is in fact a key component of the Haitian identity that draws Vodou’s practitioners together. Its theatrical elements are directed towards connecting strangers and resolving conflicts among friends and family, as demonstrated by elaborate handshakes and expressions of love. The possessed person will often seek out and confront another person with whom they have conflict, and the spirit reaches out and resolves the conflict uninhibited by pride or willfulness. (The film) invites us into the peristyle and treats us as familiars…’

As the composer I was awestruck by these images of ‘possession’. They are EXTREMELY intense, but instead of being dark or scary, I found a palpable sense of humanity and joy: a truly honest expression of deep-seated emotion (which, unfortunately, seems excedingly rare in our culture). You can imagine the challenge of writing music for these scenes! After a lot of trial and error I found a few threads that could unify the soundtrack… first were the incredible audio recordings (made by Erik Southey) of the singing and drumming that take place during the rituals, which I could use to recreate a pulsating rhythmic atmosphere. Second is the odd, and sometimes conflicted relationship of Christian and African influences in the music, where tight polyrhythms can give way to hymn like chords, which helps describe the syncretic origins of Vodou. And the third is the ‘otherworldliness’ of the possessions, which i was able to reflect using tweaked synthesizers and grooveboxes. It makes for a very odd mix, but somehow it works.

The film will be in shown in festivals worldwide this year, so please seek it out. Also, we plan on releasing the soundtrack as an LP on Temporary Residence (our label), along with some of the amazing field recordings and songs they recorded on location.

I’ll write more about that when it’s ready…

Thank you all for your interest!


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