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Olivia Wyatt - The Pierced Heart & The Machete

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Artist: Olivia Wyatt

Album: The Pierced Heart & The Machete

Label: Sublime Frequencies

Review date: Mar. 7, 2013

Sublime Frequencies has been around for nearly 10 years. The label was conceived in order to present music from the around the world without the academic/commercial/ethnocentric filters that distort so much so-called world music. Instead, label bosses Alan Bishop and Hisham Mayet ask you to trust their taste, and the taste of people they know; or to put it another way, to embrace unabashed subjectivity rather than bogus objectivity or base greed. They have taken sounds taped off the radio and slapped ‘em on CDs, released barely annotated collections of pop songs they picked up on cassettes bought from street vendors, and put out LPs drawn from a single collector’s stash of 78s. But they have also shows a willingness to listen to feedback; where early releases were barely annotated, most recent collections at least try to frame their output with a bit of information.

But not this DVD, which comprises two close-linked documentaries of back-to-back festivals honoring related Voduu deities. “The Pierced Heart” shows footage of a recent celebration of Èzili Danto, a female deity who patronizes the passions; “The Machete” does the same for Ogoun, a god of war, politics, and power. Videographer Olivia Wyatt confines her explanation to a few lines of text at the beginning of each segment explaining the name of the deity, the name of the town where she filmed, and the fact that Ogoun can hold his liquor. This is a good thing, given all the rum spilled in the course of these ceremonies. But beyond that, you’re on your own to make sense of the footage. People go into trance, drink, dance, smoke, sacrifice livestock, eat glass, hump each other in the mud, and put a little money down on chicken fights, to the accompaniment of street bands and sound systems blaring out traditional drumming, calypso-like grooves, and a bit of banging techno.

Wyatt’s undeniably handy with a camera; the colors are vivid, the faces expressive, and even a chaotic scene of ritual bathing under a waterfall is well focused and mercifully unpixelated. It can’t have been easy to keep capture the celebratory mayhem that unfolds on screen; her camera eye doesn’t blink, and it regards what it sees without judgment. But it is hard to not feel like a tourist whilst watching this movie, or maybe (during the lustiest scenes) like the teenaged boys of yore who only picked up National Geographic for the pictures of bare-breasted tribeswoman. Without a bit of explanation or prior knowledge, you’re just watching some people whose motivations you don’t understand getting down and getting crazy. There’s much more to it than that, of course, but you’re on your own to find out what it’s all about. A bit of more traditional, talking-head exposition, some links to websites, or at least an explanatory essay would help. By not doing that work, Wyatt misses a chance to help the audience to comprehend as well as gawk.

By Bill Meyer

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