One thought comes to mind as one listens to Confirmation, the latest album by Haitian konpa music band Nu-Look. The woman who inspired “Wasn’t Meant to Be” should be bound and gagged and, should she be the same one who is the subject of “A Qui la Faute?”, she should undergo a medieval torture session, or a Spanish Inquisition reenactment. Or should she? Mr. Larivière is known for all these songs, in which he depicts himself as the unfortunate victim of some Jezebel.
In “Why Do You Say You Love Me”, for instance, which appeared on a previous Nu-Look disc, a man weary of his partner’s jealous rages and public scenes of distrust laments over the abundance of mistrust in his relationship. In one of the verses of that song, Larivière complains:
Mwen ta renmen konnen si ou pa fatige
Repete vye koze ou konnen pap fè’n byen
Te kwé nou te pale ou te di-m ke ou padone’m
Pouki ou kite rankinn finn anvayi tout kè ou
I’d honestly like to know if you’re not tired
Of bringing up old trash that doesn’t do our relationship any good
Thought we had talked it over, and you had said you forgave me
Just why are you letting grudges take over your heart like that
Sure, it’s easy for him to say that! He wasn’t the one who was cheated on!
In countless other songs on Nu-Look albums written by Larivière including solo outings like Arly Larivière: Collection, it’s the same ole story. Oh, woe to love, woe to me. Oh, the sacrilege! Could one man be the love martyr of a bunch of women? Unless…Unless these songs are actually confessions of Mr. Larivière’s (a great way to relieve one’s soul of all mental guilt without resorting to visiting a priest, one thinks). Shall I explain myself further? The matter is as clear as a glass of Couronne cola. The woman that keeps showing up in Mr. Larivière’s songs is none other than…himself. What he does is switch the gender of the narrator in the songs, so that even the most observant, and discerning listener will not be able to come to that conclusion. He makes the male the victim, and the woman the aggressor (so that we won’t know his deepest, darkest secrets!). Indeed, his songs are confessionals of his; he can unburden his soul without having to subject himself to other people’s judgements.
If you have the time to listen to just one song on Confirmation, make “Wasn’t Meant to Be” the one. The bulk of the album’s power stems from this ballad. If one were judging the song merely by the intro, it could easily have been skipped. The intro sounds like it was recycled from “Loving You”, a past hit of the band. And, oh, it drags slightly, before getting to the actual meat of the song (the song itself goes on for nearly 7 minutes). There’s also a noteworthy keyboard sequence that is one of the highlights of the song. As the scorned man, (and once again the “victim”), Larivière sings:
Pouki’w te vi’n nan vi’m
Si ou pa’t vini pou’w rete
Ou pa dwe lonje-m lanmen
Why’d you have to come in my life
If you didn’t come to stay
You should never have held out your hand
He thought it was true love, he had long-term in mind, but she, on the other hand, was only using him as a sport. Podyab!
Eske la vi gen yon supriz pou mwen
Pasyans mwen bout
Mwen paka tann
Bondye mwen pa ta renmen fèmen zye mwen
Pou lanmou pa make ekzistans mwen
Wonder if life has a surprise in store for me
I’m running out of patience
Can’t wait anymore
Wouldn’t want to die
Without knowing what being in love feels like
Now if the words above aren’t one of the most heartfelt, earnest verses in the history of Haitian music, what are?
“A Qui la Faute” brings to mind the French pop ballads that Haitian vocalists so emulated in the 1970s and 1980s, though it’s no match whatsoever for “Wasn’t Meant to Be”. Larivière is in good company throughout, with Alix Nozile on congas, Ralph Condé and Sachiel Termilus sharing guitar honors, Charnel Julmice on drums, Jorge Dobal on trombone, and Norman Johns on bass. Longtime Nu-Look percussionist Irene “Roro” Edmond and former Groov’La musician Richard Nemorin are also on hand.
Nu-Look’s other vocalist Edresse “Pipo” Stanis practically stands in the nearly overwhelming shadow of Larivière, though he has his moments of glory, as in the song “Paske’m Jalou”, and the mid-tempo “Jou’m Renkontre’w”, though his talents aren’t as thoroughly showcased as those of Larivière. “Destination Finale” really brings out the best in Stanis. His voice full of longing, and backed by Condé, speaks of the resilience of true love. Condé, bound by his guitar, should have had given a few songs on which to sing lead. His sugar cane-sweet voice is worthy of much more than background vocals and hooks (Condé was once a member of some Haitian teen pop band in the 1980s called Papash).
All in all, the album should have been called Arlymation, for throughout, it is Mr. Larivière’s presence that is felt. He is the architect behind most of the 11-song album, with the exception of one (“M’Anvi Konprann”, penned by Ralph Condé and Natasha Clerger). But an able musical architect he is, writing songs of substance, although one could have done without lame fillers like “Le Nouveau Look” and “Nou Pran nan Mera”.
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