Artist: Moonlight Benjamin
Label: Ma Casa
Formats: CD, Digital
Release date: February 21, 2020
Haiti’s high priestess of voodoo rock and roll, Moonlight Benjamin, returns with her latest release, Simido. As with her previous breakout album, Siltane, the lead vocalist performs primarily in her native Creole language, with lyrics that always delve deep into the soul of Haitian culture. Now based in France, Benjamin strives to honor her roots and harness the spiritual power of her homeland. At the same time, she expresses concern that as a woman, she must constantly affirm her existence and command respect. As she states, “It is, unfortunately, an eternal battle for us who are women.”
On Simido, Benjamin is backed by her longtime collaborator, French jazz-rock guitarist and arranger, Matthis Pascaud, along with guitarist Matthieu Vial-Collet, bassist Quentin Rochas, and drummer Bertrand Noël. During the past two years of intensive touring, the band forged their guitar-laden, fuzzed up sound while Benjamin focused her songwriting on her “hopes and fears for Haitian people who have endured so many challenges in recent times.” Opening with the lead single “Nap Chape,” Benjamin denounces Haiti’s ruling classes and their oppression of the people, questioning their state of inaction and misunderstanding. Demanding answers in a strident and emotion packed voice, she asks “sa n’ap tann?” (what do you wait?), “sa’n konprann” (what do you understand?), and “kwè n’ap chape?? (do you think the will people get by?).
The album’s title track, “Simido,” is a mid-tempo song of hope, while the passionate rocker “Pasay” summons help from the spirits to deliver Haitians from their current situation. Though most of the tracks are uptempo hard rocking songs with a danceable beat, the band digs deep into a slower groove on “Belekou,” rendering a darker sound that seems to plumbs the depths of the psyche. Closing with “Kafou,” Benjamin pays tribute to a major Haitian spirit, also known as the master of crossroads, in a reference to voodoo culture. Incorporating a much more complex rhythmic structure, this track more than any other thoroughly embraces Moonlight Benjamin’s Afro-Caribbean roots.
Simido is another mesmerizing release from Moonlight Benjamin that successfully fuses her spirituality and love of Haitian culture over a bed of blazing rock guitars.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss