1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die
First of all, the Boukman Eksperyans didn't think "how can we avoid sounding exactly like Bob Marley" when they recorded "Kalfou Danjere." Or at least, probably not. The band just has the unfortunate distinction of being from a country (Haiti) that shares relative geography, ethnicity and political situation with Jamaica. Unfortunate because the group's music is automatically compared to the iconic Marley, rather than considered for its independent merit.
Admittedly however, the Beaubrun siblings listened to Marley and appreciated his musical statements against tyranny in Jamaica, a nation just a short stretch across the Caribbean from Haiti. Haiti, in case you don't read the news, is constantly awash in political turmoil and general poverty, both now and when the Beaubruns formed the Eksperyans in 1978. In 1991, things reached a head when Bertrand Aristide was ousted as President and the band left the country. The group "took advantage" of the upheaval and released "Kalfou Danjere," or "Dangerous Crossroad" in 1992 to mark the tenuous nature of the situation.
So what does the group have in common with Marley, aside from circumstances? Just a little. Both groups combined modern instrumentation, such as electric guitars and bass, with traditional percussion. Marley often handled vocals by himself, but would use a call-and-response method on occasion. Eksperyans engages in the vocal approach almost exclusively, with Theodore "Lolo" Beaubrun or his sister Marjorie "Nola" singing lead, and the chorale of instrumentalists responding. The method makes sense for political music; it gives the impression of a protestor rallying the collective.
I admit, I don't know much about what's happening in the lyrics, as they're all delivered in Haitian Creole. It doesn't take a linguist to figure out the feelings behind the title track however. The percussionists drum aggressively and the group chants display an unmistakable urgency. Nothing about this song was meant for a club, but your head will bob as if you're listening to a hip-hop thumper. An aspect unique to Eksperyans' music is the incorporation of traditional Haitian vodou music elements. Again, I don't know anything about voodoo, but I like to think (based only on my stereotyped ideas of the religion) that the chanting represents the vodou element. Despite being more than 9 minutes in length, "Kalfou" features no breakdowns or jams. This is a group on a mission, and it won't be distracted.
One more aspect that strikes me about Boukman Eksperyans is that it sounds more African in its instrumental approach than The Wailers. Both Jamaica and Haiti are nations with significant African ethnicity, but while reggae revolutionized the "skank" riff style, Eksperyans sounds very similar to the obstinato of Afrobeat (as we saw with King Sunny Ade). The bass guitar follows suit, mimicking the rhythms of the modern music of the old continent.
As I said, I didn't pick up much of the political discourse here, but I think the band speaks for its worth just fine through its playing.
INTERESTING FACT: "Boukman" serves as homage to Boukman Dutty, a revolutionary who launched the Haitian slave rebellion in 1791. It's documented that he celebrated a vodou ritual prior to the uprising in, which Pat Robertson would later call a pact with the devil in return for success. According to the all-knowing Robertson, this is why Haiti is always getting rocked by natural disasters. The "Eksperyans" part is a reference to Jimi Hendrix's band, spelled-out in Creole speak.