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A musical bridge between Vodou and Catholicism

Frater Vameri

Werner Jaegerhuber on crutches evoking a quasi-Saint Lazarus that is syncretized to Papa Legba, the Lwa that opens the gates.

Grenier & Dauphin discuss Werner Jaegerhuber's Messe sur les airs vodouesques and its importance for understanding how two worlds can integrate. I would like to discuss the work of these two authors a little bit and also talk about this unique musical composition that was made in 1953 and commissioned by Louis Maximillien for the celebration of Haiti's one hundred and fifty years of independence.

The history of this composition is curious. Maximiliem and the festival organizing committee presented the Bishop of Les Gonaïves with the idea of ​​an artistic mass but were not completely honest about their intentions. The Bishop, they say, accepted the idea, even if a little suspiciously. If he had known the ideas of Jaegerhuber, the composer of the musical piece, he would certainly have vetoed it on the spot. So much so that Maximillien later suggests that Jaegerhuber should change the title of the composition to Messe folklorique Haïtienne so that the element “ Vodou ” would be diluted amid the folklore.

Eventually , the Bishop of Les Gonaïves, Monsignor Robert, discovers the intentions of the German-Haitian artist Jaegerhuber and does not allow his composition to be performed at the festivities. As Grenier & Dauphin rightly put it, Jaegerhuber was clearly making the point that between Catholicism and Vodou there was a certain intimacy and interconnectivity, something that the church would never assume.

Grenier & Dauphin point out that Jaegerhuber's idea was to do a mass with elements of Vodou songs . This was done by sewing church elements (such as Gregorian chant), Vodou songs and also through the composer's own artistic creation. For example, Vodou melodies are adapted for Latin missal liturgy.

In fact, what we see is a musical manifestation of what was already happening in practice. After all, Catholicism has been integrated into Vodou (and vice versa) in Haiti since the first slaves arrived from Africa.

The mass composed by Jaeharhuber presents six movements where elements of Gregorian chant and Vodou songs are intertwinned. The first move is Kyrie, then Gloria, with a soprano soloist. The next is Credo, then Sanctus¸ based on a song about Damballah, Benedictus is the next movement and Agnus Dei is the movement that ends, being based on songs for Erzulie and Saint Lazarus

Unfortunately, I did not found a reproduction of the mass to share, but I leave here the link to the Suite Folklorique by Werner Jaegerhuber Enjoy!

Grenier, Robert, and Claude Dauphin. “Werner Jaegerhuber's 'Messe Sur Les Airs Vodouesques': The Inculturation of Vodou in a Catholic Mass.” Black Music Research Journal , vol. 29, no. 1, 2009, pp. 51–82. JSTOR , Accessed 8 Feb . 2021.

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