Haiti's Boukman Eksperyans has demonstrated an impressive ability to weather adversity. Last summer the group's bassist Michael Melthon Lynch died of bacterial meningitis; antibiotics that could have saved him were unavailable in Haiti due to the U.S. embargo that followed the overthrow of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Shortly thereafter the group found themselves stranded in the middle of a world tour, when, having finished some European dates, they were denied entry into the U.S.--despite the fact that they'd been granted visas earlier in the year. Unable to return home due to the current Haitian regime's hostility toward their lyrical emphasis on spiritual freedom, they were forced to go to Jamaica, where they ended up recording their expansive, triumphant new album Libete (Pran Pou Pran'l!)/Freedom (Let's Take It!) (Mango). The group's intoxicating music mixes voodoo rhythms--a sumptuous bed of traditional, hypnotic percussion--and the flavors of reggae, rock, soothing folk melodies, calypso, and other body-moving sounds from around the globe. Between the soaring, soulful vocals of group leader Theodore "Lolo" Beaubrun Jr. and the rich harmonies of the backing vocals, Boukman's fusion of traditional Haitian elements with thoroughly contemporary sounds is unusually striking. The stunning Malian vocalist Oumou Sangare clings to the Wassoulou tradition of the southern region of the country from which she hails. Wassoulou music originated in ancient hunting songs, but over the last few decades women have been adapting the style. Sangare's not only the most popular exponent of it, but the most progressive; in her lyrics she openly voices her disapproval of polygamy and forced marriage. Primarily acoustic, Wassoulou music gets its gently hypnotic grooves from repetitive figures played on a small harplike instrument called a kamalengoni and fleshed out by a gorgeous blend of acoustic guitar, violin, and spare percussion. Also on the bill for this stop on the Africa Fete tour is Nigeria's Femi Kuti, a son of Fela, who plays a jazzy Afro-funk similar to his father's, and Senegalese superstar Baaba Maal, who gave a breathtaking performance at HotHouse this past January. Wednesday, 7 PM, Skyline Stage, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand; 559-1212 or 791-7437.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photos/Christien Jaspers; Daniel Morel.