TV Features

Netflix Adds a Little Haitian Voodoo to "Chilling Adventures of Sabrina the Teenage Witch"

It's a major step towards including Black spiritualism in TV storylines.

As far as Netflix original series go, The Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina The Teenage Witch is a well-curated playlist of supernatural entities, occult practices, and teenage angst.

The third season delivered all the demonic drama we've been waiting for. Viewers reconnected with Sabrina, who is somewhere between being the Queen of Hell and just a "normal" teenage witch in Greendale. In Hell, Sabrina must defeat Caliban, who (if you didn't have to read The Tempest in high school) is the son of the witch Sycorax. Back in Greendale, the witches, mortals, and summoned hedge witches come together to fight a war with the pagans.

In episode one, we find Prudence (Tati Gabrielle) and Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) being led on a wild goose chase around the world as they look for Faustus Blackwell. Their latest chase brings them to New Orleans, where Ambrose begins to give up hope, but Prudence realizes there is witchcraft in the world that their former high priest does not know of.

The Introduction of Voodoo Priestess Mambo Marie

To search for Faustus in a more efficient manner, the pair make their way to a shop owned by a mysterious yet enticing Voodoo priestess. We meet a Black woman who introduces herself as, "Mambo Michele Marie Le Fleur, Priestess of High Haiti, Daughter of the Tiano people, faithful to Guinee" and informs the witch and warlock that she "don't do none of this watered-down New Orleans Voodoo Hoodoo bullsh*t." It's inferred that Mambo Marie is a descendant of the famous Voodoo queen of New Orleans Marie Laveau, though the show has yet to confirm this theory. When Ambrose and Prudence tell Marie their dilemma, she guides the duo through the recipe of a locator spell by working with blood magic.

2 Diyah Pera/Netflix

This scene, while small (and overlooked in many recaps of the season) is a major step in the right direction towards including Black spiritualism in TV story lines. Mambo Marie (Skye P. Marshall) is the first introduction to Voodoo in the series, prompted by Prudence's (another Black woman's) intrigue and interest in a new spiritual practice. A later scene shows Ambrose and Prudence performing the blood magic ceremony over a map of the world, subsequently leading them to the location of Father Blackwell. Mambo Marie states that the ritual requires something belonging to the person they're searching for, and they end up using Prudence's blood. Altogether, the scene evoked the origins of Voodoo.

Voodoo, also Vodou, was brought to French Louisiana in 1719 by captive West Africans through their various ethnic groups from (what is now recognized as) the Republic of Benin, east of Nigeria. These groups (Bambara, Mandinga, Wolof, Ewe, Fulbe, Fon, Yoruba, Chamba, Congo, Ibo, Ado, Hausa and Shango) continued their spiritual practices and ancestral worship through the use of herbs, their native tongue, song and dance, charms, spells, amulets and more. Each group is recognized as having an integral part of the growth of Voodoo as a faith, combining elements and knowledge through the generations.

It is heavily documented that the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) was powered by allegedly possessed slaves guided by the Yoruba orisha (or god) of war, blood, and iron, Ogun, during a Voodoo ritual in Bois Caïman. This ritual is famously known as the Bois Caïman Ceremony and is historically the reason Haitians were victorious against the French in this war.

Mambo Marie's Contribution to the Coven

The Voodoo priestess makes a return appearance in episode 5 after being presumably summoned by Zelda Spellman in an open call for all hedge witches (or witches not belonging to a coven) to help in the war against the pagans. Episode 6 opens with a sister circles of witches from diverse backgrounds, including the Icelandic cannibalistic Christmas witch, Gryla; the Norwegian witch of disease and plague, Pesta; and Sycorax, an evil witch from the city now known as Algiers.

Out of anger and confusion, Pesta attempts to attack Zelda for summoning them, only to be stopped by Mambo Marie, who reminds them all, "We do not need to fight each other, that is what men do. But we are women, n'est-ce pas (isn't that so)? Witch women. We can do more than fight, can we not?"

Later in the episode she introduces the girls of the coven, formerly known as The Church of Night (later named The Order of Hecate), to a traditional Haitian Voodoo dance of protection. This unknown ceremony being performed within the Academy is not initially welcomed by Zelda Spelman. After a private conversation with Marie, Zelda realizes that she's nonthreatening and a potentially beneficial presence in the church (in more ways than one).

With powerful performances in just a handful of scenes, Mambo Marie has solidified herself as a recurring character in the show, not only as the love interest of Zelda's but as a solid representation of Louisiana Voodoo (Sorry AHS: Coven) that fans are ready to see.

MUSIC

Broadway Will Never Be the Same After Hadestown

Anaïs Mitchell and Rachel Chavkin have created a revolutionary work of art.

Near the end of the first act of Hadestown, the stage goes completely dark, save for an array of huge lamps swinging from hooks somewhere in the rafters.

They swirl around Orpheus (Reeve Carney), lighting his descent into hell. With each rotation, they narrowly avoid his body, instead spinning to the rhythm of the electrifying beautiful song that he's singing, called "Wait for Me"—a song which we later find out made a crack in the wall, a crack that opens up a passage into the blinding lights of Hades' industrial lair.

"Wait for Me" from the Broadway Production of Hadestown www.youtube.com

As the show's narrator, a version of the god Hermes, describes the treacherous journey to the underworld over an exhilarating backdrop of violins and drums, the set begins to change. Wooden walls open up and roll back to reveal the framework of Hadestown itself, consisting of pipes and blinding lights that throw the stage into stark relief.

It's one of the most spine-chilling and seamless transitions in modern musical theatre history, so magnetic and moving in fact, that the audience cheered for around a full minute after the set change was complete. It's also one of many meticulously orchestrated moments in Broadway's most innovative show. That's Hadestown for you, though. The show is equal parts technical precision and raw emotion, winding mythology and searing social commentary into a kaleidoscopic carnival.

Hadestown is the project of singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell, who began writing it over a decade ago. She first performed the show on a bus in Vermont, touring around schools and using the songs to teach kids about the myths of Hades, Persephone, Orpheus, and Eurydice.

Anaïs Mitchell. Image via Broadway Direct

Sometimes, even in a theater in the heart of Times Square, you can almost feel the remnants of the songs' beginnings on that bus—a closeness to the land, the rhythm of wheels turning on uneven terrain, the emptiness that defines so much of the American landscape. That closeness to the earth, and the show's intimate connection to real struggles faced by everyday people, are unexpected on a stage that usually celebrates glitz and glamor and in a show about ancient Greek myths.

Hadestown winds together two old tragedies: the stories of Hades and Persephone, and Orpheus and Eurydice. In the first myth, Hades steals Persephone away while she's playing in a field. Due to the protestations of her mother, the earth goddess Demeter, Hades agrees to let Persephone return to earth for six months out of the year—and so summer was born.

In the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, Orpheus follows his lover down to Hades after her death. After enchanting Hades with his music, the god of death agrees to let them go—if Orpheus can make it home without looking back to see if Eurydice is following.

Mitchell's reinterpretation, enhanced by brilliant directing from Rachel Chavkin, transfers these myths to a modern-day setting, painting Hades' underworld as a walled factory-wasteland filled with dead-eyed workers forever constructing a wall, "punching in and punching in and punching in" for all of eternity.

Eurydice, played by the extraordinary Eva Noblezada, is a jaded runaway who falls for Orpheus after he makes a red flower bloom with his music. Their love is strong in the summer, when Persephone is back "living it up on top" and food is abundant, but by winter Eurydice grows frustrated by hunger and Orpheus's disconnect from reality, and finally agrees to go work in Hadestown in exchange for what is essentially eternal job security. Naturally, Orpheus—directed by the silver-clad god Hermes, who serves as his guardian as well as the show's narrator—follows her into the underworld.

Image via Broadway Direct

Hermes and the three fates, who float gracefully around the stage and sing in heart-stopping harmony, are instrumental to the show's rhythms, pumping real magic into the music. When Orpheus sings his epics, his voice is stark at first against the sound of just his electric guitar, but soon harmonies seem to grow up from the shadows themselves, followed by a haze of warm piano, ghostly violins, and a virtuosic trombonist. "[Orpheus] could make you see how the world could be, instead of how it is," repeats Hermes throughout the show, and when you hear the music rise to its full heights, it's hard not to share in that vision.

Hadestown, on the whole, doesn't shy away from showing you how the world is—but it also shows you how it could be, painting that world with its soft lighting and bittersweet poetry. Ultimately, it's an example of the transcendent works of art that human beings are capable of creating, using ancient stories and melodies to tap into the universal stories that connect us all and hint at the existence of much larger, even divine forces.

Despite its grandiose foundations, Hadestown is so game-changing because of how relevant it is to modern life, and how intimately it explores the deepest human experiences we share. Essentially, it's a show about working, about greed and struggle, about love in the midst of hunger and poverty; and perhaps most of all, it's a critique of capitalism. It's a damnation of the American ethos of greed and unchecked consumption that lift up the super-wealthy while leaving the poor in the dust, an ethos that has generated the wastefulness that created the modern environmental crisis. This is what makes the show so radical, radical enough that it may be the start of a pronounced change on Broadway and in musical theatre on the whole.

That's not to say that Hadestown doesn't also offer an escape. On the contrary, the whole production is so captivating that you hardly know where to look and at times may forget how to breathe. But it also reaches beyond the cloistered walls of New York's bubble of liberalism, beyond Broadway and Hollywood's tendency to worship the glamorous and the gilded, instead of approaching the reality we're all actually living in—of course, through the lens of Mitchell's finely wrought poetry and virtuosic compositions.

That reality becomes apparent when, just after Orpheus enters Hades, the god of death leads his workers in a song called "Why We Build the Wall." It's impossible not to think of Donald Trump when the chorus rings out, "Why do we build the wall?" croons Hades, and the crowd of faceless workers chants, "The wall keeps out the enemy / and the enemy is poverty / and we build the wall to keep us free." Mitchell actually wrote the song way back in 2006, but it's a stunning protest anthem for right now, one that laments the evil hypocrisy of a capitalist society that hoards wealth, exploits its own workers, and rejects its weakest citizens who cannot keep up with its relentless pressures. With every day brings another revelation about the state of the US-Mexico border—from the removal of protections for asylees seeking protection from domestic violence to the family separations and children's deaths at the hands of ICE—the song feels like a searing indictment of this border wall and all of the American exceptionalism and greed that it symbolizes.

Hadestown: Why We Build The Wall #NoWalls www.youtube.com

In spite of this, "Why We Build the Wall" and Hadestown, on the whole, are not located in any specific time period or place, and the show never expresses an us-against-them sentiment. Instead, it humanizes even Hades. "The heart of a king loves everything like the hammer loves the nail," Orpheus sings, as part of his plea to Hades. "But the heart of a man is a simple one, small and soft, flesh and blood...What has become of the heart of that man? Now that the man is king? Now that he has everything?"

So Hadestown is not an overt damnation of Trump. It is, however, a rousing call to protest even in the face of seemingly indomitable evil. "If it's true what they say, then I'll be on my way," sings Orpheus, considering the futility of his task. "But the ones who deal the cards / Are the ones who take the tricks / With their hands over their hearts / While we play the game they fix." His hope inspires other factory workers to look up from their machinery, and eventually wins him and Eurydice passage out of Hadestown. It is a doomed passage, of course, as Hermes tells us from the beginning, the inevitable ending of a very old story that has always ended in tragedy.

13 - If It's True (Anaïs Mitchell - Hadestown) www.youtube.com

At its heart, Hadestown asks why human beings keep singing, creating, and falling in love despite knowing that it all might be useless in the end. It asks why we bother to speak out when individual protests and art seem so futile, and when forces like capitalism and climate change seem too vast and overwhelming to comprehend, let alone fight. "Cause here's the thing," Hermes says at the very end of the show, just before launching back into the opening number. "To know how it ends, and still to begin to sing it again, as if it might turn out different this time…"

Ultimately, Hadestown doesn't promise that if we just hope a little harder, everything will be fixed. But it does, in Mitchell's words, raise a glass to the ones who try.


Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.


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MUSIC

Popdust Exclusive: Young & Sick Talks New EP "Size of Relief"

The Dutch artist and musician's newest release is buoyant dance music inspired by nighttime bike rides.

You might recognize some of the art created by Nick van Hofwegen, aka Young & Sick. It's adorned the covers of Foster the People's Torches and Mikky Ekko's Kids, among many other albums.

You might also recognize his music—and if you don't, you very well may be hearing him everywhere soon. His newest EP, out May 3, is a collection of dance music that's as atmospheric and complex. With its crystalline production, pumped-up rhythms, and dreamy loops of synths and keys, it's tailor-made for clubs, bike rides, or for any time you need a pick-me-up or an excuse to take off and drive. Ultimately, it's the product of a mind that's clearly enamored with its own ability to distill color and sound into shapes and tunes.

The music has a buoyancy to it, a clarity that belies meticulous attention to detail but still meshes well with its sense of electric intensity and free-spirited energy. Standout tracks include "JET BLACK HEART," a track that—despite its brooding lyrics—feels like the sonic equivalent of making it to the top of a mountain after a long trek; the thrilling, bittersweet "IT'S A STORM," and "SIZE OF RELIEF," which layers van Hofwegen's angelic, slightly overdriven vocals over an arrangement of reverb-drenched horns, cool synths, delicate strings, and tense rhythms.

Popdust talked to Young & Sick about the relationship between visual art and music, inspirations for his upcoming EP, and the importance of listening to albums all the way through.

Can you tell me a little bit about your upcoming EP, and the inspiration behind it?

YOUNG & SICK: This collection of work was made right before I went on tour with the Knox. In the back of my mind, while knowing I was gonna be on tour with them, I got really in the mood to make something more uptempo and uplifting, so that drove me to be faster in BPMs than I usually am. I'd also been making a lot of remixes for people, so it tied in with that, too. I took European dance roots and made something more sample-heavy and dancey.

At the time, I was also living in the valley in Los Angeles, and when I was making all the songs I was going on long bike rides in the evening. The songs I'd listen to while riding also shaped what I was creating—it was more dance music, so it made me shift towards that.

Are there any other inspirations, sonically or in terms of place, that you feel influenced your new work?

This EP is very largely inspired by the emotion of the city passing by on the bike. A lot of my inspiration—especially with this record—is drawn from sampling; I'd find a nice little piece of music that I'd chop up, and it would guide me to the next spot.

Have you always been into dance music? Did you grow up going out and dancing?

Growing up in the Netherlands, dance music was always pretty prevalent. I grew up a rock kid. Nirvana was my first love. There was always a lot of dance music around me, though, and when acts like the Chemical Brothers came out and started merging rock music with dance, a lot of people like me got very into that. Dance music has always been around me, and I've always had a big love for it, but it hasn't necessarily always come out in my music before.

YOUNG & SICK - BITTER END www.youtube.com

I know you do a lot of art as well, and it's pretty unique to see someone doing such high-quality work in two fields at once. Which did you start out with—art or music—and how do you see those two fields relating to each other?

That's really kind. I've always done both, as long as I can remember. I've been drawing as long as I've been playing guitar. I always say I feel like they come from the same place, and anyone's brain that can do one can do the other—it's multidisciplinary. They feed off each other so well. If I get stuck in either, I just switch up and keep going. I don't think there was one before the other; it was a chicken-and-egg kind of thing.

Your art and music seem to fit so well together. Do you have any sort of synesthesia? Do you see music in colors, or see them related in that kind of way?

I do think they tie into each other incredibly. I know people have full-on synesthetic things where they actually see color in sound—I don't have that to the full degree, but if I do artwork for my music or others' I tend to listen to it while creating the artwork, to really shape them around each other. I do see a very strong connection between them. When a band or artist gets that connection right, it makes me very happy—when someone's just getting it when the music and art live in the same world, it's such a gratifying feeling.

Did you feel pressure to choose between them? Was there a moment when you decided you weren't going to pick one of the two fields?

I wouldn't say I was pressured to ever choose. There were early moments where I was thinking, I want to use this name for both fields, for doing art for other people and for myself and also for making music, and there were definitely moments where people were kind of wary of that. But I never had to choose, luckily.

Your music and art are very psychedelic. Is that something you're interested in and do you explore spirituality in any way, or where does that imagery come from?

My work draws from 70's psychedelia, and obvious bands like the Grateful Dead that I've always looked up to, in terms of their art and how well they made an insane brand for themselves. I'm a big proponent of that type of art, going that far in detail and tying everything together that well. I'm not necessarily a very spiritual person but I do tend to like the occasional psychedelic… I definitely draw inspiration from that.

What's happening next with your music?

I'm working hard on a follow-up. A lot of musicians like me, as soon as you finish something, it's kind of out of your system. I'm working to follow it up with something different, but in a similar line.

What's the inspiration behind your band name?

My manager used to throw a lot of parties in New Orleans when he was going to Tulane University. He'd ask me, do you know a good name for a party? I'd come up with one and make a flyer, and he'd start passing them out. One day I saw those two words [young and sick] together, sitting next to each other, and I made a poster for him with that name, and he said that was one of his favorite parties. I had that poster up in my bedroom in London when I was living there, and I was looking at it and thought, I kind of need that name. I started putting out songs and making art with it, and it kind of stuck. It's a simple, striking name—you just have to tell someone once and they remember.

Are you going on tour soon?

There's going to be a few shows—LA and New York and some festivals—and I'm doing a bunch of DJ sets as well. We're figuring out what the next tour is because we just came off of one.

You do a lot more than visual art and songwriting. What other fields do you work in?

Remixing is something I've been very fond of lately. Obviously, the art for festivals and other people and that kind of thing has been amazing. Fine art and making things, in general, is definitely a big passion. With music and art, there are so many little nuances within each field.

Are you particularly excited about any of the songs on the upcoming EP?

Every time you make a release, there are a lot of songs that don't end up on it—usually I make about triple the amount, and we send them to the people we work with at the label and they come up with their favorite lists, which were pretty close to what I had in mind for this one. Sometimes it's hard to pick between the songs because you made all of them, so it works well when somebody on the outside picks one and it aligns with your choices. My favorite songs all ended up on this EP. The song that's about to come out, which will close the EP, is called "SIZE OF RELIEF," which is also the name of the EP. I wrote it in New Orleans in such a short time—maybe a two-hour window of making the first loops and all the vocals—and it just felt so right. I just had to change a few things, and detailing and mixing took a lot more time—but initially, it just took a few hours, and when that happens, I just feel so good. That one is definitely one of my favorites.

Anything else you want people to know?

I know it's hard for a lot of people these days to take in more than a few songs at once, but I'd encourage people to take off 20 or 25 minutes and listen to the EP in full.

It seems like kind of a lost art to go through and listen to a full album, but it's super rewarding when you do.

That's kind of how it was meant to be heard. If anyone's able to do that, that'd make me happy.

Young & Sick's debut album was released in 2014. "Size of Relief" is now available on streaming services. Listen here.


Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.


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