Album Review: Riva Nyri Précil Perle De Culture

“Legba anye wo / Nou pral pare solèy / Peyi a lwen Legba / Nou pral pare solèy”
During the opening minute, over spirited Haitian drumming, Riva and backing singers take turn repeating those phrases. Other players — drums, bass, guitars — join in at around 1m10s to create a frenetic rhythm, while a soprano sax improvisation-like performance gives the piece a jazzy feel. I’ve come across many “Legba” tunes over the years; this one is a new acquaintance which will no doubt become a good friend.

Danbala Wèdo | 2m43s

“Danbala Wèdo se nou menm o / Ayida Wèdo se nou menm o / M’pral fè yo wè sa”
That’s all there is to the lyrics, which aren’t at all familiar to me. Between the fantastic duelling guitar parts and Riva’s Sade-like smooth vocals, I had a tough time deciding where to focus attention. As any smart guy is wont to do, I gave priority to the lady. Yeah, smart guys also know what’s good for them.

Papa Loko | 4m00s

“Papa Loko ou se van / Pouse’n ale / Ou se papiyon / Wa pote nouvèl ba Agwe”
This Papa Loko is the tale of two songs. On the first 2m06s, she covers an old Voodoo ditty entitled Papa Loko Malad; the rest is dedicated to the more popular Paka Loko, where we find the above lyrics. Racine drumming has a strong presence throughout; the synthetic nature of the snare and the slightly distorted guitar give the arrangement an interesting edgy slant.

Makaya | 2m54s

My eyes lit up when I first saw the title. I prayed for a rendition of Issa El Saieh’s Makaya. Prayer. Declined! [I may need someone to show me how that prayer thing works.] This is a version I had not heard before. Riva starts off with humming before breaking into a languid “Makaya anye Makaya”. Her vocal tracks are supported only by a couple of guitar lines and teasing cello.

Se Bon | 3m56s

“Danbala Wèdo se bon / Ayida Wèdo se bon / Lè m’a monte chwal mwen / Gen moun k’ap kriye”
I’ve always associated those lyrics with the song Dambala Wèdo, as heard on versions by the likes of Azor. Being the curious type, I now want to know which one is the original name. One thing Riva made clear here is that Sinead O’Connor is not the only one who can split one syllable into several notes. Monvelyno Alexis steps out of the shadows for some lead guitar grooves over an unrelenting brass ensemble. He also shares lead vocal duties on the last ninety seconds.

Kriye Bòde | 3m56s

This is one track where I’ll have to opt out of the lyrics and simply enjoy the sound of Riva’s voice. [I am aCocteau Twins fan after all.] For, beyond “Kriye bòde”, I have no idea what she’s singing…even while staring at the text. Interestingly, Monvelyno’s accompanying guitars function in similar manner; they add wonderful colour and complexity to the arrangement, but aren’t necessarily musically “legible”. The one instrument that always speaks loud and clear, though, is that soprano sax.

Chita La | 4m42s

“Mwen chita la / Yo pa wè mwen / Lè m’a vire do’m ba yo / Ya lonmen non mwen”
I first heard this tune on RAM’s Kite Yo Pale album. You know…the RAM that once released great Racine records but can only do kanaval nowadays? Yeah, them! I love the distant-sounding backing vocals answering “Ya lonmen non mwen” to Riva’s “Lò’ m tounen… [briz van, oksijen, pousyè].” It’s as if they’re coming from a completely different room.

Atibon | 3m23s

“Ouvè baryè a pou Atibon / Papa Legba ki t’ape pase / Wa veye zo’w”
I’ll file this under the Unfamiliar Tune category. Sax dominated Rara is the best way to describe the style. I’m left unfulfilled whenever I hear Rara and pa gen son bout fè. NO, cowbell is not an acceptable substitute.

Moyiz Dezo | 4m37s

“Moyiz Dezo, pran sa pou prinsip o / Pa pote dlo pa kiyè / Pou plen kanari mwen”
Eddy François’ Zinga album was my first exposure to this song. [Note to self: unearth inter(e)view I did with Papa Jube for that CD.] It is believed that if you lose one of the five senses, the remaining ones are enhanced. Can you blame me, then, if I want to close my eyes when listening to this track? The young lady’s sensual voice, the dazzling guitars, mischievous bass, sizzling ride cymbals: I want enhanced hearing lest I miss any of it. The tranquility of that section is shattered at 2m28s by an all-out Racine fiesta with drums, sax, and added lyrics to take us to the finish line.

Twa Fey | 4m26s

“Twa fèy twa rasin o / Jete bliye ranmase sonje”
I might have first heard Twa Fèy while in my mummy’s womb. I sense a little glee in Riva’s voice. A short sax phrase holds the rhythm steady while Monvelyno drops some sonlari-like guitar grooves. Another great moment is when everything is stripped away, leaving only Riva and drumming. She could have done the entire track that way and I would still love it.

Batala | 3m34s

“Aleman se lwa dife li ye / Aleman se lwa lagè li ye”
I have no prior knowledge of Batala. Where has my Racine drumming gone? I’ll never be accused of being a fan of Soul/R&B. What I might be willing to confess to is that I’m sometimes guilty of making exceptions. My justification in this case could be the beautiful voice [of course] and that lethargic cello.

Nan Dòmi | 3m55s

“Nan dòmi yo vin di mwen / Peyi’m nan pa pou mwen ankò / … / Peyi’m nan vann depi lontan”
Funny, a friend recently told me the exact same thing during a phone conversation. She was carrying on about NGOs or something. This is a Riva original; it sounds every bit folkloric as the ones she’s been interpreting. Unmistakable roots rhythm, trademark exiguous lyrical content: it’s all there.

Ou Fe M’ | 3m26s

“Doudou ou fè’m tounen on bèl kap pou’w file’m ale / Doudou ou ban’m anpil fil mol lè van’an move”
Awwww! Is anything sweeter than a Woman In Love? Chimes, guitars and bass get things going, soon joined by the cello. That’s all Riva would need to deliver a stirring performance on this lovely little ballad. I take great delight in how Markus Schwarz keeps reaching into his bag of percussion tricks and pulling out a different…um…rabbit each time. Ti soufrans Riva bay nan fen mizik la fè’m anvi ba ti pitit la yon BIG HUG. “There! There! It’s Okééé!

Ti Zandò | 4m03s

“Ti Zandò Ti Zandò / Fèy nan bwa rele mwen”
The list of men I’ve heard cover this tune includes Eddy Prophète & Azor, the Issa El Saieh Orchestra, and James Germain. I very much welcome a woman’s voice to that discussion. Riva does her thing atop strong drumming and percussion; a one-minute-plus sax solo gives her a breather; she comes back and does her thing some more; The End.

Zantray Lavi | 4m36s

“Gade mèt minwi k’ape souri / Konsa nou menm n’ape rejwi”
This is another original composition. I hope you like lots of sax; I know I do. It has its nose in everybody’s business on this number. It helps out during Riva’s vocals; it serves as foundation for Movelyno to let his hair down on guitar; and still has enough left in the tank to duke it out with the percussion to close out the song. Oh, and Riva’s “ee-ee-ee” is irresistibly cute.

Mwen Bezwen W’ | 5m39s

“Syèl mwen vid / Cheri gade / M’bezwen zetwal ou / Solèy kè’w pou klere jou mwen”
Monvelyno’s voice complements Riva nicely on this original Konpa duet; they both sound at home with the genre. Shedly Abraham is on Drums; a certain Ti Bebe is on synthesizer. I think the synth parts should have been done with sax, or cello even. The idea that modern Konpa can’t do without some cliché electronic sound is both absurd and worrisome. Having said that, I do submit that the synth parts here are tastefully done: not loud or over the top; solo isn’t showy and is unusually quite muted. This is otherwise an extraordinary piece, a pleasant bonus surprise. I wouldn’t mind hearing more Konpa from this talented couple.

:: Words Are Very Unnecessary ::

I first thought this review would consist of a few general comments about Perle De Culture. But with each track I played, it was becoming more apparent that I couldn’t possibly do it justice in two or three paragraphs. And by the time I was half way through the album, I knew this was no ordinary record; I had no choice but to dig in and go for the special track-by-track treatment [Patent pending].

Riva Nyri Précil’s performance on Perle De Culture is nothing short of astonishing. I won’t try to compare her timbre to other female vocalists, but her delivery style/mood brought out the Sade lover in me in a hurry. There’s so much grace, calmness, confidence, and maturity in her voice. And luckily for listeners, her producer, Monvelyno Alexis, did a fantastic job showcasing her beautiful vocals. I really dig his approach and overall sound. [Hmm, dare I make a Makarios comparison?]

Riva and her team of talented musicians did splendidly adding a jazzy touch to these old Haitian favourites. But what impresses me to an even greater degree is the quality of her four original compositions. They prove that this young artist can deliver the goods on many levels and has a promising future — assuming Monvelyno Alexis doesn’t asphyxiate her career, as Jeff Wainwright has done to Misty Jean’s. In her press release, Ms. Précil says, “Perle De Culture is my way of supporting, preserving, and exposing the beauty of Haitian culture. It is my gift to the people of Haiti and around the world…” Well, I say it is a gift indeed, a beautiful gift from a gifted artist, a gift which other Haitians may want to accept and cherish. Riva rivé. Pa tann sé lè li viré do’l pou nou lonmen non’

:: Musicians ::

Riva Nyri Précil: Lead Vocals. Cassandre Joseph: Backing Vocals, Monvelyno Alexis: Backing Vocals, Guitars, Malcom Parson: Cello, Jeremy Powell: Saxophone

Rick Becker: Trombone, Chico Boyer: Bass, Féquière Joseph: Drums, Jean-Marie Brignol: Haitian Drums, Markus Schwartz: Percussion,Mamoudou Konaté: Djembe/Talking Drum.

© Inkou

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