The Afrobeat-in­fused power trio cook up a fiery storm on their sec­ond al­bum.

Classic Rock - - Contents - Words: Polly Glass Photo: Mar­cus Way

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.

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