Unitarians present Voodou music program

Staff Writer

The Chicago-based Crossing Borders Music Collective will perform Haitian folk and classical songs at 3 p.m. this Sunday, Oct. 5, at First Unitarian Church, 5650 S. Woodlawn Ave.

The program, entitled “The Real Voodou,” has already been performed six times across the Chicago area. The Hyde Park show will feature 10 songs performed by a string quartet, including arrangements by flutist Julio Racine and a piece by German-Haitian composer Werner Jaegerhuber.

“For me, it’s really all of Haitian classical music in general that I find so compelling,” said Tom Clowes, president of and cellist for Crossing Borders, which performs compositions from underrepresented cultures.

Clowes has been visiting Haiti regularly since 2000 to teach music. He said the program was born in part out of his frustration with perceptions of Haiti.

One of Haiti’s common religious traditions is voodou, consisting of a set of rituals, offerings and prayers with West African roots. These practices revolve around a creator god, Bondye, and are often practiced in combination with Catholicism. Although some vodouists practice sorcery, vodou has been negatively portrayed as satanic.

“It’s a caricature of what it actually is,” Clowes said.

Joan Staples, chair of First Unitarian’s music committee — which pre-approves the congregation’s musical programming — said the church seeks to foster cultural understanding and appreciation. Crossing Borders’ upcoming concert is important, according to her, because it’s about understanding “a culture which is not only different but is misunderstood.”

“Both on a spiritual and a musical level, we want to share these compositions and these approaches with other people, so that there will be an enjoyment and an understanding of other cultures,” Staples said.