Ti-Marcel & Ti-Roro
Voodoo Drums In Hi-Fi






Voodoo Drums In Hi-Fi is a quasi-Exotica LP recorded on site in Haiti, comprising twelve unique songs and performances coming directly from the streets. Released in April 1958 on Atlantic Records, this album has garnered a small cult following in large parts due to the talent of the involved drummers Ti-Joe, Ti-Marcel aka Marcel Louis Joseph and especially so Ti-Roro or Baillargau Raymond who was known as the king of the drum, letting his influence reach out as far as to the United States where Jazz combos relied on his tempting performances. Two drum solos on this album showcase Ti-Roro’s particular skills. The Hi-Fi part of the album title causes portentous goosebumps; is this one of those gimmicky stereo releases? No, not at all. In hindsight, the exquisite recording technique serves the purposes and immediacy of the life-like representation. This is no dull studio album made in Hollywood. The LP breathes Haiti!


The liner notes state: “Haiti may be a dark enigma to most of its visitors, but if one learns the language of the drums, the life and mind of its people open to you like a flower. The drums are never silent; day and night they sound from some vague distant place, muffled but distinctly articulated like a heart-beat.” Voodoo Drums In Hi-Fi brings these aspects to life. Ingenuous authenticity is rarely found in the Exotica genre, but on this album, candor is ubiquitous. Loud cheers, happy shouts and singing street musicians conflate with Pagan flutes, frightening reeds and didgeridoo-esque instruments as well as drums, drums and more drums, with the fleeting visit of an accordion in one instance. The front artwork reminds of Chaino, and indeed, fans of his convoluted savage tribalism are in for a treat… if they are willed to spend quite a few bucks or search for a digital copy: the album appears frequently on eBay and resides in the price range from $55 to $100+ for excellent copies. Read more about a hyper-authentic and über-raw dob whose darkness equally lures and scares the bewildered victim.


The first string of artifacts is rather self-explanatory, but no less enjoyable despite the seemingly technical descriptions in their titles. The French-English tohubohu of the opener Contradanse: Avant Simple With Flute leads to one of the most warbled flute melodies to ever enter Exotica shores. It inherits traces of ritualistic Paganism, faux-Mexican exuberance and endeavors of charging the tone sequences with atavisms of devotion and seriousness, as if the player knew that his performance is recorded for eternity. Cheerful chants, Ti-Marcel’s bongos and Ti-Roro’s djembes accompany the wood-interspersed aura. The song structure is rather mundane, but all the more exotic. This is street music alright.


Up next is Ti-Roro Drum Solo I, but what this easily understandable title does not reveal is the magnanimous length of almost seven minutes as well as the unleashed eclecticism! The congas sound eminently hollow and punchy, their sudden decay as well as the shrapnel gestalt of their textures cause a strangely dusky atmosphere. Unsurprisingly, there are no melodies or other players involved, and so the drums have to shine on their own. Baillargau Raymond aka Ti-Roro presents a sequence of drum vignettes, some of them laid-back and mystified, others strongly savage and ritualistic. Fans of Chaino will undoubtedly rejoice and only miss his snorts and grunts. This is Exotica stripped off all its ornaments, henceforth to be called: the truth.


While Ti-Joe Carabien uses the fundament of Ti-Roro’s previous drum solo and ennobles it with plinking bicycle chimes, a slightly more frantic rhythm and cheerful choirs of women and possibly children, therefore taking the song back to the streets of Haiti in contrast to Ti-Roro’s take which seems to be encapsulated in a strange nullity, it is Meringue With Flute that reintroduces the incisive Pagan flute in front of a disciplined, perfectly synced drum thicket. The mood is hard to pinpoint; the flute emanates an aura of purity, strictly contrasting with the vaulted, shady congas, djembes and hi-toms.


It is the following ditty which proves to be accidentally foreshadowing. Like a portentous voodoo spell, the enigma of Nan Point La Vie Encore Oh! moves into – I kid you not – proto-Dubstep territory… in 1958! Tribal reeds and abyssal flute-like devices drone and bounce like a contemporary producer’s wasteland of gloom, a dazzling feeling that is strongly augmented by the means of the clicking wood sticks, the prayers of the lead temptress and the feedback of the choir. The tune works once again on at least two different and clashing layers. The choir shouts in a jocund manner, whereas the five-note reed wonkiness is almost frightening in its jejuneness. Side A closes with Laissez Yo Di, a reprise of the former song with the exact same Dubstep-oid craziness, but admixed drum fire and sanguine prayers of the female leading voice. Since the complemental drums nurture the ritualistic aura, this performance is compatible with the bonfire in a jinxed pine wood. Creepiness galore.


Side B opens in the same fashion side A ended, the soundscape is facing the risk of growing thin. The almost five minutes of Rara Riffs comprise of Ti-Roro’s and Ti-Marcel’s splendid drum prowess in adjacency to the third appearance of the abyssal reed device and castanet-like rainsticks, so it is up to Contradanse: Avant Simple With Accordion to change the record for the better by unleashing the first truly Occidental layers of warmth via the titular accordion. Its thermal heat and euphony suddenly illumines the formerly crepuscular drums which then begin to seem much more uplifting. This instrument and the male exclamations make this gleeful tune a definite highlight. Benignancy suprème!


Whereas Annonce On Zange Nan Dio offers another bright drumscape with a monotonously plinking bell and exhilarative female choirs, Contradanse : Avant Simple & Merengue With Flute puts the flute back into the limelight in an otherwise ever-changing rhythm-shifting instrumental march through Haitian streets. Insouciance is king. La Misere Pa Douce! then fuels the insinuated threnody via the exclamation mark, but is otherwise mirthful, featuring the usual potpourri of drums, didgeridoo-esque reeds and female vocals. Ti-Roro Drum Solo II kisses the listener goodbye with a purposefully labyrinthine stream of conga vignettes and an increasingly accelerated tempo, ending the LP with the skeleton of any good Exotica tune: pure drums. Attack rate, sustain and reverberation make this a worthwhile closing track for percussion lovers.


Ti-Marcel, Ti-Roro, Ti-Joe and their fellow Haitians create a record whose verity and tradition actually do not allow Voodoo Drums In Hi-Fi to be linked to the Exotica genre, for the truthful performances offer an unvarnished glimpse into some Haitian customs of the 50’s. Notwithstanding the unique material and the omission of the wonderworld called Hollywood which seems to be farther away than ever, the collective’s album is an important opal whose roughness is as charming as the reigning murkiness. Despite a few sunbursts, the album is draped in a raw aura. Even the blithesome material is alienating to Western listeners due to the missing discipline of the vocalists. Their chants come from deep within their hearts, but it is crystal clear that they are no trained professionals. Again, most refreshing, no harm done.


What remains incredibly impressive, especially so in hindsight, is the magnitude of drums that are unleashed. While their textural range is not overly far-fetched and varied, the rhythm patterns are hypnotic and tranquilizing like every good ritualistic dance. The focus on the recording technique does not degrade the value of the album, not this time when unique material from the streets of Haiti is presented on site. The sound quality is a boon and should not necessarily be reduced to the status of a gimmicky feature. From the warbled flute coils in two of the three Contradanse offerings over the genuinely amicable mellowness of the accordion-based danse to the bucolic Dubstep-foreboding critters, Voodoo Drums In Hi-Fi has only one thing that unnecessarily craves for attention, and that is its title. Even though I am by no means an expert in regard to all things voodoo, I sense that this title is used to augment the creepy attraction it can be to the potential buyer. Ti-Roro’s two drum solos are indeed powerfully shady, but all other dark tunes contain at least weak beams of light. It is a ceremonial album after all, one which begs for a remastered reissue!


Exotica Review 247: Voodoo Drums – Voodoo Drums In Hi-Fi (1958). Originally published on Aug. 10, 2013 at AmbientExotica.com.