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RAM: August 1791 review – Classy and exuberant Vodou, rock and funk

Named after lead singer and founder Richard Auguste Morse, RAM are one of the finest exponents of Haitian mizik rasin, a mix of percussive Vodou music, rock and funk. The son of an American academic and the Haitian singer Emerante de Pradines, Morse played in a Princeton punk band before moving to Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, where he managed the historic Hotel Oloffson – the inspiration for Hotel Trianon in Graham Greene’s novel The Comedians. It was here that RAM were formed in the early 1990s, a band with a boldly independent stance who, despite kidnap and death threats, continued to play throughout the violent political upheavals of the decade.

RAM went on to build a following in North America, where they worked with the New Orleans Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Arcade Fire. And they have continued to make great music. The new album is a celebration of the slave revolt of 1791 that would lead to the declaration of independence 13 years later, and it includes rousing reworkings of ancient songs. The African-influenced Danmbala Elouwe is a driving, percussive piece driven on by guitars and chanting vocals, while Negrès Katye Moren is a gloriously funky treatment of a song once performed by Morse’s mother, with keyboard work that echoes Stevie Wonder, and the exuberant Otsya features hand-made horns that date back to the slave era. Elsewhere, there’s a dash of reggae on Dominikani (P’ap Janm Bliye) and more reminders of West Africa, and some fine vocal harmony work, on St Jak (M’ap Viv Avé Yo). It’s a classy, exuberant set.

This month’s other picks:
Five years ago, the inventive Indian guitarist Debashish Bhattacharya released Beyond the Ragashere, an album that introduced a remarkable new singer - his teenage daughter Anandi Bhattacharya. Her first solo album, Joys Abound, features compositions and backing from her dad and more than justifies that early promise, with delicate, drifting vocal passages matched against exuberant, precise improvisation. From Brooklyn, The Blue Dahlia, led by singer Dahlia Dumont, switch from reggae to klezmer, Americana to a French-Mexican waltz, on a cheerfully easygoing global fusion set, La Tradition Américaine. And from the Ivory Coast, there’s the delightful Our Garden Needs Its Flowers, in which Jess Sah Bi & Peter One play country music, West African style. It was a massive regional hit in 1985.