On “Haiti Mwen Renmenw”, the new album by songstress Natalie Jean, the composition is brilliant, with wonderful use of the economy of sound (i.e. high quality vocal deliveries with calculated use of instrumentation), emotionally raw and thematically consistent. I have listened to every nuance of every note on this album. It is a brilliant album, by a brilliant artist…and I don’t even understand a single word that is sung! Why? Natalie, who is a multilingual singer – performing in English, Spanish, and French – has sung the entire album in Haitian Creole, apart from the closing track “L’Amour a L’Infini”, which is in French, clearly bringing to the fore the roots of famous Haitian artist Guy R. Jean, who just incidentally happens to be Natalie’s father.
“Haiti Mwen Renmenw” contains ten tracks bathed, in both fast paced Latin rhythms, and slow burning ballads, executed with the excellence we’ve come to expect of Natalie performances over the last few years, as she has evolved into an all-embracing singer of enormous potential. This recording sounds like the greatest hits album of an artist in her 20th year of recording. Every song is perfect and meticulously crafted. It’s analogous to a box of chocolates, where you can’t decide which is your favorite, and after you listen to each song, you say “omg” out loud.
All the songs are different, and even sung differently. I adore Natalie’s vocal phrasing ad boundless energy in the opening “Se Kanaval”, which you can imagine by the title, invokes imagery from a euphoric street carnival, and will have you dancing in rings around the room. Though accompanied by an upbeat tempo, “Smoking Ke Fan” deals with a slightly melancholic theme of a local fishmonger who never finds real happiness beneath his everyday working facade. The song was penned by Guy R. Jean.
The exuberant and rhythmic “An Selebre Papa Dambalah” deals with one of the most celebrated spirits of Haitian Vodou. Damballah is known as the Sky Father and the primordial creator of all life. He rules the mind, intellect, and cosmic equilibrium. “La Pe” is a plea for peace for Haiti and relies exclusively on Natalie’s melodic voice and the accompanying percussion. “Lan Nuit Nou Tounin Lougarou” translates roughly into ‘The Night We Become The Werewolf’, and represents the warding off of evil spirits. Again, the power of the percussion plays an important part in the song structure, and in support of Natalie’s fiery vocals.
“Endepandans” signals one of the album’s higher points. The song which embodies how Haiti got its independence and how they should try to reclaim it again, shows off all the facets of Natalie’s forceful vocal performances when she puts her mind and heart to it. “Saut-D’eau” is an ode to the famous waterfalls where thousands of Haitians travel to ask the Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel and her voodoo counterpart Erzulie for healing in a yearly pilgrimage. Another extremely high point on the album is represented by the track “Marabou”, a ballad about the beauty of dark skinned women. Here Natalie is able to elaborate on the sensual and romantic nuances of her vocal delivery. Something she does with delicacy and luxuriating taste.
“Haiti” as the name suggests is about the country and its best known characteristics. But if you’re expecting a happy-go-lucky carnival-esque rhythm, be prepared for an intense and edgy acoustic guitar driven soundscape and an almost rock-like vocal delivery from Natalie. “L’Amour a L’Infini”, or ‘everlasting love’, closes the album in style, with Natalie again forging all the emotion and raw vocal power she can muster in a song which describes the sentiments of ‘a greater love’. A rabid fan of Natalie Jean’s music, I’d been waiting for a new album, but I was not expecting one in Haitian Creole. Despite my breathless anticipation and confidence in Natalie’s ability, I couldn’t shake a slight fear that somehow, “Haiti Mwen Renmenw” wouldn’t be able to live up to my monstrously high expectations.
Well, multi-award winning Natalie has not lost one ounce of her touch since her previous release. The stunningly mature vocals of a still so youthful and yet such a refined woman, the striking musical arrangements, and the unique style without the overproduction continue to reveal an artist who wants to remain true to both her own style and her family legacy. She has the looks and the potential star power, and I think that the latter case might yet come without having to redefine herself in terms of some marketing craze that has less substance and is otherwise bland. In her performances, Natalie is energetic and passionate. Her music is unique and special, for it can be listened to from various perspectives and angles. Regardless of whether you are happy or sad, Natalie Jean always seems to have a song apt for the moment. And even when you cannot understand the language, it does not matter one little bit, as the music will take you exactly where you need to be!
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