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Vernon Chatlein: Imershón

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Vernon Chatlein
Percussionist, Composer Vernon Chatlein - Photo: https://vernonchatlein.com

It seems that while no one was looking – or rather, while everyone in the world was looking to the musicians of Cuba and Puerto Rico to show unveil the secrets of Afro-Cuban & Afro-Caribbean music – Vernon Chatlein, a remarkable composer, percussionist and modern griot emerged from the tiny island nation of Curaçao. Even more noteworthy is that with Imershón, his sophomore album, he has ascended a pinnacle not only for his incendiary percussive artistry, but as an erudite and riveting storyteller who sheds light on the Afrocentric – and Indigenous – history of one of the most colourful islands of the erstwhile Dutch Antilles.

And yet this is not one of those meteoric, 0-60-seconds-in-four-seconds kind of progress between his debut and his second albums. Mr Chatlein has, in fact, dived deep into the cultural topography of his Antillean home, excavating the country’s past and his own past emerging from the ‘Challenger’ depths of both communal and personal aspects of his culture to tell – in glorious music – a fascinating story of where he comes from and where he appears to be going – with Holland as a leaping-off point – not that he has come to terms with his Afro-Antillean heritage.

Vernon Chatlein: Imershón
Vernon Chatlein: Imershón [album cover]

To be clear, and at the very outset, one must lay stress on the term ‘Afro-Antillean’. The reason for this is although to the untrained ear Mr Chatlein’s music might easily be perceived as being simply Afro-Cuban, or Afro-Caribbean. But dig deeper into the music of this album – penetrate deep under the skin of Mr Chatlein’s drums from where the novel storytelling emerges – and you will discover music so remarkable that you will be held breathless, for in its dancing melodies and spectacularly complex rhythms, in its colourful and intricate harmonic conception you be held rapt from the album’s opening Pa Win ku Henri, until long after the final notes of the album’s finale, Decolonial Love, have echoed away into the music’s proverbial vanishing point.

Approaching the album for the first time – for the initial spinning of the disc – is a heady experience. But trying to understand the nuances of the music’s narratives in the context and terms of the artist’s cultural anthropology can be a bit daunting. This is mostly a packaging problem for the numbering of the tracks and on the CD sleeve and the more detailed booklet notes do not always align with each other. Language would have been another obstacle, but the booklet has excellent English language versions of the poems, recitatives, and other narratives.

Archeological digs may tell you that civilisations are horizontally linear, or cyclical, but we also know from cultural topography that humans from the earliest times have looked out of caves not only with eyes in the head, but eyes of the heart, fired up by an imagination that grew exponentially, as the human brain developed and grew more complex. Add migration across continents – colonization of the Americas and you have the kind of explosive nature of griots – artists with a gift for storytelling. Mr Chatlein is one of those modern artist-griots. And by any standard he has an immense gift not only for storytelling but also for weaving the stories of his ancestors into his own life-story.

Vernon Chatlein - Photo from Facebook
Vernon Chatlein – Photo from Facebook

His debut album, not for the kind of Peace Love Music, set down a marker for future productions – his musical palimpsest if you like. But nothing could prepare the listener for such an extraordinary artistic leap. Emerging from his cultural Imershón, Mr Chatlein has enriched the planet with an [almost] hour-long adventure – in which he takes us on an orchestral procession into  the interior landscape of his [artistic] mind. Emerging from the waters of the Caribbean we feel as if we are baptized into his world as he knows it and wants us to understand it. Of course, this makes the orchestral showpiece sound a tad cerebral – which it is, but only to a point.

That’s because with his boom and clap of percussion by Mr Chatlein and Lidrick Solognier, punctuated by wonderful vocals by a galaxy of storytelling stars with their recitations of poetry and narratives is really a notionally endless series of earth dances. The thirteen songs – sung through his rumbling percussion, the percussive pianism of Sophie Anglionin, the bellowing of the bass clarinet beautifully played by Caesar Bereeveld, the rumbling bass played by Nathaniel Klumperbeek,  and the poignant wailing alto saxophone of Godwin Louis  and the trumpet of Peter Samuah align like the archeological riches unearthed by Mr Chatlein’s archeological/musical “dig.”

Together this music and the shifting relationships between melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic instruments thundering through the vocals evoke those massive forces that shape Mr Chatlein’s – and our – planet. Sometimes the layers of music stack up immensely; at other times they thin to the most diaphanous textures, but always there is a sense of returning to the same point, only to discover that the view has changed in the interim. Through it all Mr Chatlein leads a team of master-storytellers, while remaining the one who has created and who controls a virtuoso orchestral superstructure, the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic detail of which suggests the teeming life of his tiny island Curaçao in all its protean glory.

Deo gratis…

YouTube Playlist – Vernon Chatlein: Imershón

Music – Intro; 1: Win ku Henri; 2: Heru [Agang]; 3: Pakudo; 4: Kangrew di Hulanda; 5: Mi’n ta pober; 6: Luna ku Solo; 7: A Mini Mini Sa Mani Go; 8: 1863 – Suite Libertad; 9: Bekita; 10: Ami Ze Wanawa Ze; 11: Zuntan Zuntan Zun Klintan; 12: Outro; 13: Decolonial Love.

Musicians – Sophie Anglionin: piano, keyboards and vocals; Nathaniel Klumperbeek: bass; Franklin Caesar Breeveld: bass clarinet, flute and vocals; Lidrick Solognier: congas, wiri [3, 6 – 8]; Vernon Chatlein: tambú grandi, bari, chapi, marimbula, banta, gogorobi, quitiplas, vocals [8, 11], matrimonial, triangle, keyboards [11, 12], wiri [5, 10]. Guests – Godwin Louis: alto saxophone [4, 6, 11]; Peter Samuah: trumpet [11]; Maisha Isenia: vocals [11]; Elia Isenia: vocals [5]; Helianthe Redan: vocals [11]; Tjodo Juliana: archive performer [3]; Laurindo Andrea: spoken word [4]; D’yany Francis: voice [6]; Juliana Sluis: voice [7]; Maria Doran: voice [8]; Elogio Maduro: voice [8]; Elis Juliana: voice [9]; Martili Pieters: voice [10]; Maria Minguel aka Iya di Wanota [presumably]: voice [11]; Etzel Provence: voice [12]; Dr. Charissa Granger: narration [13].

Released – 2023
Label – Sena
[www.vernonchatlein.com]
Runtime – 46:09

YouTube Video – Imershón Curaçao Aftermovie

Based in Milton, Ontario, Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and an accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

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