Introducing Interview: VODUN

If you’re looking for schooling in heavy psych-infused rock and ancient West African religious cosmology, you need VŌDŪN in your lifeIf there were any cobwebs clinging to the space between your ears, they’ll be long gone by the time you’ve filled your cranium with their unforgettable sound.

This heavy “afro-futuristic tribe” are led by Oya (Chantal Brown), who has been described by Mojo as “Aretha fronting Royal Blood”, and have just released their mega debut album Possession. With the launch at The Lexington tomorrow night, Kate Crudgington caught up with Chantal to find out more…

Hello Chantal, how are you? What have you been up to this week?
I’ve been on tour with Vodun, trying to bring our brand of weighty Afro-rock to as many people as we can. The tour so far has been great. We’re touring with Limb who are great fun, and we’ve both been received really well, so spirits are high at the moment.

 Are you able to pick a favourite track from Possession and explain why you favour it above the rest?
‘Bloodstones’ is my favourite song on the album as I love the change in dynamics from slow and introspective to wild, fast and unleashed. The song is about understanding a culture that has a connection with its environment and every living being, and how those who didn’t understand this had enslaved its people and tried to destroy their way of life. Not understanding the magic and richness that exists, but instead letting fear lead to ignorance and hate and one of the worst stains in human history.

On the intro to your song ‘Loa’s Kingdom’ and at the end of tracks ‘Minos Army’ and ‘Divinity’, there are brief recordings which give some background information on the history of the art of VODUN. Where did you source these recordings from?
We actually created them ourselves. We were inspired by a documentary called ‘Voodoo Secrets’ by Paul Sauer, and we wanted to highlight some of the attitudes towards Voodoo that actual practitioners have. We also wanted to make note of some significant moments in West African & Voodoo history like the all-female MINOS ARMY who were an army of thousands and fought the French in the late 19th Century, and Francois Makandal – the Haitian slave who is revered in Voodoo as he helped to inspire a revolt.

Not many people are aware of the history behind your band’s name. Could you give us some insight in to this Ancient West African practice?
Vodun is a religion that’s rooted in totemism, much like many other ancient practices. It is positive at its core and celebrates women in its worship of female Loas or Goddesses. It’s still practiced globally, in various forms, and has many off-shoots or sister religions (Haitian Voodoo, Candomble in Brazil, Ifa, etc), and unfortunately has always been demonised by the West/Christian Europeans. In spite of slavery and the active attempt to eradicate the practice, it still exists with the help of its syncretism with Christianity. If caught practicing Voodoo during slavery, you were mutilated and killed, which helped to give rise to the marriage of Voodoo Spirits and Christian Saints, in an attempt to covertly continue practicing and worshipping the Gods.

 I’m sure there are various and complicated factors to consider, but why do you think VODUN (and West African history in general) is not as visible in the present day, compared to other aspects of world history?
Fundamentally, it’s Black History, and there’s not a great deal of that taught. Black History is tarred with a horrid brush due to the heinous slave trade, which much of the West still refuse to acknowledge was the foundation of their empires and successes to this day. Combine that with the continuous negative representation of the practice in a conscious effort to destroy it, and it doesn’t take much to understand why Vodun or Voodoo has never been mentioned in our classrooms, even when learning about Black History.

 VŌDŪN comprise of three central forces,rather than individuals: Oya (vocals), Ogoun (drums) and Marassa (guitar). Your avatar, Oya, is described as “the conductor at the centre of the destruction and chaos.” Do you find it easier to perform under a different moniker?
It does help with the energy and getting ourselves into character for a performance. Embodying what we perceive the power of these spirits represent, unleashing what we have inside and giving over to the audience. A baring of souls, you could say.

How do you find the right balance between metal, psych, soul and voodoo in your songs? Individually, they’re all powerful elements; were there ever any concerns that they wouldn’t fit together properly?
I don’t believe there ever were. Everything created is down to a feeling, which means that if it doesn’t feel right, it’s changed. But if it does, we develop the idea further. Much of what we’ve created just feels right to us, so I don’t think there were conscious thoughts about the mixing of genres.

 You have performed in other bands – including Do Me Bad Things and Chrome Hoof – how have these experiences helped you to grow your vocal and performance skills?
Do Me Bad Things (DMBT) was my first experience in singing with a live band, and my first experience in true eclecticism. I gained the confidence to really sing and use my voice with power. With Chrome Hoof I learned a lot about vocal freedom and using different sounds and tones to add texture to my vocal delivery. In regards to performance, both bands have been instrumental in developing my confidence in commanding the stage and my desire to really put on a show.

You’ll be celebrating the launch of Possession with a gig at The Lexington on the 7th April. What are you looking forward to most about this date?
Just the fact that it’s even happening is what I’m looking forward to. It’s a massive mile stone for us. Being in a band for the long haul isn’t easy, but we’ve managed to come through quite a lot of set-backs and are elated at the prospect of selling out The Lexington. We’re a small band and this is just great.

 Finally, if you had to sum up VODUN’s sound in three words, what would they be?
Heavy. Afro-soul. Weird.

Huge thanks to Chantal for answering our questions! 

Possession, the debut album from VODUN, is out now via Riff Rock Records.