What emerged from those long, hot sessions were a series of tracks with roots on both sides of the Atlantic, compelling layers of subtle polyrhythms that bridge centuries and cultures. Relentless grooves become the foundation for soaring, utterly modern melodies like the swirling, electronica-fuelled “Salilento” or the Afro Vocoder ritual sound of “Yanvalou” that’s inspired as much by Krautrock and Sun Ra as Lagos or Port-au-Prince. Flying on inspiration and adrenaline, it’s roots music for a global future.
“When we played in public after those five days together we just hoped it would work,” Mulholland says. “The gig was a big festival, La Fête de la Musique, and a few bands had been on before us, so everything was running late and we were tense. Then, just before our set, someone set off a tear gas grenade in front of the stage.”
Eventually, the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra was able to play. They’d hoped to record the event, but technical problems prevented that. And with some of the main players leaving the next morning it seemed that the music would be no more than a fleeting memory.
“We still had multi-track recordings from the rehearsals, though,” Mulholland continues. “I decided to go through them and see what I could find. I wasn’t even thinking of releasing it. I just wanted to preserve what we’d done for posterity. We’d achieved something, created something important. It deserved to be remembered. So we re-recorded all the vocals with Erol Josué, Sanba Zao, and the other singers.”
But life has a habit of springing surprises. Later in 2014, after Mulholland had moved to Bamako, Mali, he ran into Glitterbeat’s Chris Eckman.
“I told him about what we’d done in Haiti and Tony Allen’s involvement,” Mulholland says. “He wanted to hear it. When I sent it to him, even though it was raw, he could sense the power in the music. Glitterbeat was interested, so Olaf Hund and I did proper mixes on a couple of cuts.”
The result captures the Afro-Haitian Experimental Orchestra sparking on all cylinders. The music is alive with the sense of spontaneity and adventure, the members supporting and pushing each other, diving headlong into the music and creating something that stands outside geography and genre.
“I think the album captures the spirit of all of us together in that room,” Mulholland says proudly. “It’s anarchic and energetic. And I really believe it’s good, it’s honest, it’s new. It’s different. It was an experiment that worked.”
From the past to the future, it’s a sweep of music to grab and shake the listener. And proof that beautiful, dangerous music can rise out of chaos.