« Previous | of | Next »

D'Angelo's voodoo technology: African cultural memory and the ritual of popular music consumption

Black Caribbean Literature (BCL)
Kajikawa,Loren Y., (Author)
Journal Article
Publication Date:
Spring; Spring, 2012
African American Research Center, Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject Term:
General, 39: Popular music
Unedited] Focusing on R&B neo-soul singer D’Angelo’s 1999 album Voodoo, this article explores the relationship (both real and imagined) between African American popular music and Afro-Caribbean religion. While most songs on the album do not use traditional Caribbean rhythms, the album’s imagery appears to equate Voodoo’s blend of funk, soul, and gospel with Afro-Diasporic religious practices such as Santeria or Vodou. Not only do D’Angelo’s own statements about the album affirm this connection, but his fans also contribute valuable evidence supporting the link. Surveying the reception of Voodoo by music critics as well as hundreds of online customer reviews of the album via Amazon.com, I argue that D’Angelo’s listeners characterize the album as an inner-directed musical experience approximating spirit-possession. By consicously linking the repetitious, circular grooves of black popular music with the form and function of Afro-Diasporic religious traditions, D’Angelo and his fans testify to the value of black spirituality and offer a critique of the hypermasculinity and materialism pervading contemporary hip-hop and rap music. Voodoo refocuses our attention on the spiritual qualities of African American music that persist even in an age of mass-mediated global capitalism.