Puerto Rico’s Ìfé honor the dead with percussive electronic prayers | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Puerto Rico’s Ìfé honor the dead with percussive electronic prayers


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While sheltering at home in San Juan during Puerto Rico’s lockdown this spring, Ìfé bandleader Otura Mun wrote a new EP, The Living Dead | Ashé Bogbo Egun. The producer, composer, and percussionist, born Mark Underwood in Indiana, is also a babalawo, a priest who practices divination in accordance with the traditions of Ifá, a religion rooted in West Africa that coevolved with Christianity after it was carried to the Caribbean by the slave trade. Part of his daily routine involves communing with his ancestors by attending to the shrines in his home: “ashé bogbo egun” translates to “power to all the deceased,” and the three pieces on the EP are Mun’s interpretations of Lucumí ceremonial prayer songs that honor the dead. Pulsing, full-throated Auto-Tuned chants from Mun and new Ìfé vocalist Lavoski soar through a rich tapestry of ceremonial batá drumming that’s been given a modern synthetic sheen. Mun and his bandmates use electronic drum pads as well as acoustic drums outfitted with sensors that allow their sounds to trigger electronic outputs, which transforms the various percussive voices into melodic instruments that harmonize with one another. Mun says these circular, meditative tracks are designed to remind us that death in the physical world is not the end, and they share a surprising sense of solace and hope that’s in keeping with his description of the EP on Ìfé’s Bandcamp page: “We are all on the same wheel of life at different points.”   v

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