The Afrobeat-infused power trio cook up a fiery storm on their second album.
Half a dozen nuggets about the Afro-infused power trio who cook up a fiery storm on their second album.
Arguably, it shouldn’t work: three commanding mavericks in tribal dress and body paint, interlacing soul, bonecrunching guitar and West African folklore. But it does work: quite brilliantly, in fact.
Comprising vocalist Chantal Brown (aka Oya), drummer
Zel Kaute (Ogoun) and guitarist Linz Hamilton (The Marassa), Vôdûn are one of the most vibrant forces in hard rock right now. Where 2016 debut Possession was a wild mix of riffy metal, Afrobeat and powerhouse vocals, Ascend sounds heavier, groovier and more determined – aided by Royal Blood producer Tom Dalgety. It also packs a politically topical lyrical bite – spurred by the omnipresent spectres of President Trump and the ongoing confusion surrounding Brexit.
They go back a long way.
Brown and Kaute met 15 years ago in London soul-metal band Invasion. It was a fun period – the music was exciting. Brown even used to dress up as a wizard. But ultimately, the project was doomed after a falling out with their guitarist. “We’ve never quite made it on to a project’s second album,” Brown says,
“so we were quite excited but feeling the pressure. With the first album, we’d just found our sound, we’d thrown those songs together. This album, for Zel, was very definitive. She wanted it to be more cohesive.”
Ascend is a step on from Possession.
It’s clear with the new album they’ve all upped their game, meticulously turning what might have been just a fun experiment into something bigger. Saxophone, guest vocalists and Brazilian percussionist Anselmo Netto (of electronic Afrofunkers Ibibio Sound Machine) have been added to the mix, much of it fuelled by layers of dynamic rhythm. For Brown, who had previously sung in nine-piece Do Me Bad Things and the 13-strong Chrome Hoof, this was a natural move.
They tap into race, politics and hidden black history.
While the spiritual hoodoo of Possession is still present, Vôdûn’s lyrics are now charged with socio-political energy (not least in ferocious, hooky single Spirits Past). Brown tapped into presentday racism, as well as stories of lesser-known black women in history, from 17th-century resistance leaders to samba pioneers (in Started From).
“It feels like we’ve been here before,” Brown says of the current issues from which she drew inspiration. “Since this band started, I’ve read up more on this history, because it’s so poorly represented. If you don’t know that you come from a powerful lineage, if you’re not represented positively, you do grow up thinking you can’t attain certain things.”
Eack of the band members bring different things to the table.
“I’m very much into soul and weird stuff,” says Brown, whose inspirations include Aretha Franklin, Queens Of The Stone Age and jazz singer/bassist Esperanza Spalding. Kaute also drums for industrial pioneers Test Dept (originally formed in 1981). “Linz is very into straight-up rock and thrashy stuff, and Zel locked herself away for a while and studied a bunch of West African rhythms… and then we try and fuse it together.”
Brown grew up singing gospel…
Growing up in London, in a family of American singers (her mother has sung backing vocals for artists including Eric Clapton and Sting), Brown didn’t have to look far for her first musical influences. Soul legend PP Arnold, who arrived in the UK around the same time as Brown’s American parents, is a close family friend, and Brown grew up singing with her at family get-togethers. “Someone would sing a gospel song, then someone would start a harmony, mainly gospel-y stuff. But myself and my brother have sung with her on her tour, too.”
…and has since sung with a Boney M tribute band.
Brown’s CV includes sessions with Turbowolf, Geno Washington and Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, among others, and she’s travelled through Russia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan with Memories Of Boney M.
“In so much of Russia the rich/poor divide is a bit insane. You go through these tiny villages and they’ve got nothing. After the war, a lot of people weren’t allowed to go into Russia, people were pressing music on to x-rays and smuggling music into the country.”
Vôdûn don’t face such obstacles, but their impetus to advocate freedom and unity – by looking beyond tired rock clichés – is incredibly strong.
“You have to [speak up],” says Brown, “because music is so powerful, and reaches so many people, and makes us feel so many things.”
Ascend is released on September 7 via New Heavy Sounds.