Blues music has a long, long history. A music genre over 100 years old, its roots go deep in American soil, and the formative artists all serve as a touchstone for multiple genres that would soon follow. For France-based singer and self-proclaimed Punk Vodou Queen Moonlight Benjamin has brought it to her home of Haiti on her newest album, Wayo. Translated to ‘cry of pain’ in English, her latest release harkens back to the music that shaped her as an artist and built on the foundation established by some of her inspirations. But from the opening title track, “Wayo,” Benjamin quickly demolishes any preconceived notion of what a blues rock album should sound like today and creates something new entirely.
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With the thundering boom of the drums, Moonlight Benjamin’s deep voice takes control and proves to be bigger than life. Unafraid to scream, shout, or screech sortilege, she holds her own against an admittedly awesome guitar. In fact, a close second for standout aspects of the entire album is longtime collaborator Mathis Pascaud’s guitar playing. But if anything, they keep each other at a deadlock in terms of bigger-than-life prominence. More often than not, Moonlight Benjamin wins, particularly on “Freedom Fire” and the previously released “Bafon.” While the former reveals a sensitivity to Benjamin in her most impressive vocal performance, “Bafon” returns with a spirit of vengeance. Again, Benjamin’s voice is as strong as the instruments. Perhaps even grander, but certainly demands more attention as she takes center stage time and time again.
In all fairness, Pascaud transforms the sound of the electric guitar as much as Benjamin changes voices. Where “Haut là haut” resembles the rotor blades of a helicopter, “Taye banda” mimics the screeching of a banshee on the track’s climax. A significant reason for many of the track’s strengths is producer Raphaël Chassin, whose talents complement every other collaborator on “Lilè.” As the best song on the album, it combines all the strong suits of previous tracks into a singular song, resulting in an explosive magma concoction of blues rock trial-by-fire fervor.
Outside of the clear strengths going for the album, there might be a language barrier for some. But the main takeaway from the album is, without a doubt, Moonlight Benjamin’s shapeshifting voice. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, her voice has so much emotion that you can’t help but resonate with what she’s saying. Moonlight Benjamin herself said, “There are still a few songs about Haiti, of course, but the writing, the story, the common thread in this album, it’s more universal. It deals more with the philosophical side of things.” Whether physical or metaphysical, the spellbinding songwriting of Wayo is there for all to appreciate.
Words: David Sosa
Wayo by Moonlight Benjamin is out on all streaming services. For info on her upcoming tour and future releases, follow her on Instagram, YouTube, and her website.