This is not bad at all for a band that was originally formed with a bunch of folkloric musicians merely to perform at a hotel (Haiti’s iconic Hotel Oloffson, nonetheless). This Haitian collective’s music is the kind of stuff that is nothing less than astonishing for how beautifully and gracefully it brings together diverse musical influences in a way that is totally unimaginable. RAM is a part of Haiti’s “mizik rasin” movement, which combines elements of traditional Haitian Vodou ceremonial and folkloric music with rock and roll. And RAM 6: Manmanm Se Ginen, the band’s sixth release, brings this style to life like a curious and gifted Western rock musician – the likes of Peter Gabriel or Paul Simon – would, wanting to take music into the deepest depths of unchartered and unimagined territories while still managing to keep it relatable and somewhat pop-friendly.
RAM is first and foremost a live band. They perform on this record with utmost intensity and vigor, as if they are playing music on the streets, trying to drum up a crowd at a block party. Most tracks on Manmanm Se Ginen end up in a frenzied party, which is only heightened by full-on carnival songs like “Odan Bonswa,” “Papa Loko (Se Van),” and “M’pral Domi Nan Simitye” that are wonderfully revelrous and utterly catchy with their ebullient rhythms right from the start. Even on the more mellow tracks like “Jije’m Byen,” “Ki Mele Mwen (Avè Yo),” and “Koulou Koulou” – tracks with melody-driven Caribbean and African influences where the mood is not so frantic – the rhythms are still buoyant.
Manmanm Se Ginen is deeply rooted in traditional music. But its adoption of “Western” influences is also one of its prominent aspects. This is done so, very cleverly, thanks to bandleader Richard Morse. He knows a thing or two about rock music, as he once was in a punk rock band before forming RAM. “Kolibri Anko” is a totally Western guitar instrumental, and different in style from any other song on this album. “Mon Konpè Gede” has generous rock guitar parts interspersed among tribal percussions. Similarly – and much less conspicuously – Western influences subtly and gracefully make their presence throughout this record.
With its kind of ceremonial music that has roots in African, Caribbean, and European cultures, Manmanm Se Ginen is more than just a pop album; it is a cultural experience through music. The songs on this album are brilliantly performed and have a refined production sense even while maintaining the spur-of-the-moment “live” feel. However, like ethnic food – no matter how great – this is not for everyone’s music palette. But much like trying out a new cuisine, if you dare to explore this album chances are you will not only be not disappointed, but you will come out of the musical experience having discovered something absolutely cool.
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