Music of Haiti

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The music of Haiti combines a wide range of influences drawn from the many people who have settled on this Caribbean island. It reflects French, African rhythms, Spanish elements and others who have inhabited the island of Hispaniola and minor native Taino influences. Styles of music unique to the nation of Haiti include music derived from rara parading music, twoubadou ballads, mini-jazz rock bands, rasin movement, hip hop Creòle, the wildly popular compas, [1] and méringue as its basic rhythm. Haiti hadn't had a recorded music until 1937 when Jazz Guignard was recorded non-commercially. One of the most current popular Haitian artists is Wyclef Jean. His music is somewhat hip hop mixed with worldbeat. Haitian music is influenced mostly by European colonial ties and African migration (through slavery). In the case of European colonization, musical influence has derived primarily from the French.


One of Haiti's musical traditions is known to outsiders simply as compas. But in the former non-standardized Haitian Creole, Haitians identify it variously as compa, conpa, and konpa-dirék. [2] Regardless of its various spellings, compas refers to a complex, ever-changing music genre that fuses African rhythms, European ballroom dancing, and Haitian bourgeois aesthetics. The word may have derived from the Spanish compás, which relates to the musical rhythm of the "beat" or "pulse." One of the most distinctive features of Haitian compas music is the steady, pulsing drum beat, which makes it easy to dance to. [3]

Haïti Chérie is a traditional patriotic and most recognizable song of Haiti that was written and composed by Dr. Othello Bayard de Cayes and was initially called Souvenir d'Haïti. It represents the pride Haitian people feel for their country and culture. Within the Haitian community, at home and abroad, it is widely considered as a second national anthem to La Dessalinienne and the song has recorded several different versions.

Folk music



Méringue is a guitar-based style historically connected to merengue but without the use of the accordion. The blend of African and European cultures has created popular dance music, music played on simple acoustic instruments. Méringue has lost popularity to kompa.


Rara music is a Lenten processional music with strong ties to the Vodou religious tradition. It has often been confused with Haitian Carnival, since both celebrations involve large groups of dancing revelers in the streets. Rara is performed between Ash Wednesday (the day after Carnival ends) until Easter Sunday (or Easter Monday in some parts of Haiti.) Rara bands roam the streets performing religious ceremonies as part of their ritual obligations to the "loa" or spirits of Haitian Vodou. Guédé, a spirit associated with death and sexuality, [4] is an important spiritual presence in Rara celebrations and often possesses a houngan (male Vodou priest) or mambo (female Vodou priest) before the band begins its procession, blessing the participants and wishing them safe travels for their nightly sojourns.


Twoubadou is a form of music played by peripatetic troubadours playing some combination of acoustic, guitar, beat box and accordion instruments singing ballads of Haitian, French or Caribbean origin. [5] It is in some ways similar to Son Cubano from Cuba as a result of Haitian migrant laborers who went to work on Cuban sugar plantations at the turn of the 20th century. [6] Musicians perform at the Port-au-Prince International Airport and also at bars and restaurants in Pétion-Ville.

Compas / Konpa

Compas, short for compas direct, is the modern méringue (mereng in creole) that was popularized in the mid-1950s by the sax and guitar player Nemours Jean-Baptiste. His méringue soon became popular throughout the Antilles, especially in Martinique and Guadeloupe. Webert Sicot and Nemours Jean-Baptiste became the two leaders in the group. Sicot then left and formed a new group and an intense rivalry developed, though they remained good friends. To differentiate himself from Nemours, Sicot called his modern méringue, cadence rampa.

In Creole, it is spelled as konpa dirèk or simply konpa. It is commonly spelled as it is pronounced as kompa. [7]


Mini-jazz was formed in the mid-'60s characterized by the rock bands formula of two guitars, one bass, drum-conga-cowbell, some use an alto sax or a full horn section, others use a keyboard, accordion or lead guitar. However, all these small jazz or bands had their guitars with sophisticated styles. The 1970s were dominated by mini-jazz, which still used a variant of the méringue style. One of the mini-jazz groups, Tabou Combo, became the most popular ensemble of Haiti. [8] From Haiti the mini-jazz formula replicated in the French Antilles in the 1970s.

Haitian rock (rock kreyòl)

Haitian rock originated as rock n roll in Haiti in the early 1960s, performed by rock bands called yeye bands. These were short-lived when they added compas direct to their repertoire and called the result mini-jazz . Today, Haitian rock is an alternative rock music with a blend of Caribbean flavor that was first introduced to Haiti by Yohann Doré. Splash were a popular Haitian rock band of the 1990s. [9]

Mizik rasin

Theodore Lolo Beabrun, Lead Singer of Boukman Eksperyans Theodore Lolo Beabrun, Lead Singer.JPG
Theodore Lolo Beabrun, Lead Singer of Boukman Eksperyans

Starting in the late 1970s (with discontent surrounding the increasing opulence of the Duvalier dictatorship), youth from Port-au-Prince (and to a lesser extent Cap-Haïtien and other urban areas) began experimenting with new types of life. François Duvalier's appropriation of Vodou images as a terror technique, the increase in U.S. assembly and large-scale export agriculture, the popularity of disco, and Jean-Claude Duvalier's appreciation of kompa and chanson française disillusioned many youth and love.

To question the dictatorship's notion of "the Haitian nation" (and thus the dictatorship itself), several men began trying a new way of living, embodied in the Sanba Movement. They drew inspiration from the global movements such as Black power and Hippies, along with a major influence from Reggea superstar Bob Marley and extensively from rural life in Haiti. The Sanba dressed in the traditional blue denim (karoko) of peasants, eschewed the commercialized and processed life offered by global capitalism, and celebrated the values of communal living. Later, they adopted matted hair similar to Jamaicandreadlocks, but identified the style as something that existed in Haiti with the term cheve simbi, referring to water spirits.

The most well-known of these artists were Sanba Zao (Louis Leslie Marcellin), Ayizan (Harry Sanon), Azouke (Gregory Sanon), Aboudja (Ronald Derencourt), Kebyesou Danle (Jean Raymond) and Chico (Yves Boyer). They formed a band called Sanba yo and later, Gwoup Sa. Later still, other musicians like Lolo (Theodore Beaubrun), Papa Bonga, and Eddy François joined the trend. This was the modern precursor to what would become mizik rasin. One of these groups recorded a song in the 1980s for a UNICEF campaign for vaccination, which is included on the LP Konbit!.

In the 1990s, commercial success came to the musical genre that came to be known as mizik rasin , or roots music. Musicians like Boukman Eksperyans, and Boukan Ginen, and to a lesser extent RAM, incorporated reggae, rock and funk rhythms into traditional forms and instrumentation, including rara, music from kanaval, or traditional spiritual music from the rural hamlets called lakous, like Lakou Souvnans, Lakou Badjo, Lakou Soukri, or Lakou Dereyal. Though initially the people involved followed the ways of the Sanba Movement, eventually this began to fade. Increased political and economic pressures saw many of these people emigrate (to the U.S. and Canada, primarily). Both those who stayed and those who traveled between countries began adding more non-Haitian (strictly speaking) elements and implemented a more commercial sound to earn more money and a wider audience.

RAM recorded a traditional Vodou folk song in Haïti called "Fèy". In Haitian Creole, "fèy" means "leaf", and the lyrics of the song describe a leaf falling from a tree.

Zouk or zouk-love

The Haitian cadence and its compas has been dominating the Antilles music scene since its introduction in the late 1950s. Compas direct is a modern méringue popularized in 1955 by the Nemours Jean-Baptiste, a Haitian saxophone and guitar player, which was appropriated by the Antilleans who labeled their version cadence-lypso and later, zouk or zouk-love.

The original zouk was zouk béton, a fast tempo jump up carnival style of music originating from the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, was popularized by the French Antilles Kassav' in the 1980s. However it was too fast, and the style lost ground in the 1980s due to the strong presence of kadans or compas, the main music of the French Antilles. The problem is that musicians from Martinique and Guadeloupe have wrongly labeled compas as zouk or zouk love, creating a sense of confusion in Africa, Cape Verde, Angola, Brazil, Portugal and other places. Haitian musicians taught Antilleans how to play compas, and it is from them that zouk's rhythms derive in origin, which some[ who? ] credit is due in its creation. In all account, Haitian musicians describe zouk musicians as first rate, because they are now part of the forefront of the musical scene. [10]

Today,[ when? ] zouk-love (the current zouk) is the French Antilles cadence or compas, characterized by a slow, soft and sexual rhythm.

Haitian hip hop (rap kreyòl)

The local homegrown Haitian hip hop movement is rising in popularity in Haiti and other Haitian communities. It is becoming more and more popular with Haitian youth, often communicating social and political topics as well as materialism. Kompa as well as other popular local music beats are used frequently with urban sounds. Recent years have seen a rise in popularity for Haitian Hip-Hop artists such as Barikad Crew and Jimmy O. Other Haitian hip hop artists have yet to evolve.

Spiritual music

Haitian gospel music

Haitian Vodou drumming

Music education and mentoring

BLUME Haiti (Building Leaders Using Music Education) [11] is an American NGO that trains teachers of classical music in Haiti and partners with other organizations to provide training in instrument repair. It has reached approximately 5,000 students. It partners with Luthiers Sans Frontieres UK [12] among others.

Carrefour Collaborative, [13] an NGO based in Chicago, promotes and produces Underground music and musicians in Haiti by providing high end audio recording equipment, video production help and mentors. The goal is exposure to American audiences. Gaetville, an MC who also does Hip hop and Dance Hall music, was the first musician they produced.

El Sistemia - a Venezuelan method of teaching classical music, started in Haiti in 2012 [14] with the encouragement of former president of Haiti Michael Martelly - a former singer.

Music institutions and festivals

The Haitian Carnival is an important part of the Haitian culture. It is also significant for Haitian musicians as an opportunity to showcase their talents and expand their audience by performing for Carnival crowds.

Ten days after the 2010 earthquake, the "Hope for Haiti Now" telethon event was launched in the United States, effectively taking over the mediasphere and reaching hundreds of millions of households and viewers. It focused on appealing to the viewing public's empathy for the survivors of the disaster, allowing ordinary citizens to help in a collective relief effort by contributing money donations to NGOs providing Humanitarian aid to earthquake survivors. [15] [16] The telethon attracted support through a variety of celebrity musical performances and staged calls for empathy, using digital social networks to disseminate its appeal to the moral responsibility of the viewer-consumers. It offered the possibility for viewers to text donations on cell phones, and raised a reported $58 million by the day after its launch. The form of this fundraising effort emphasizes and aligns with the power of music and singing in Haitian society. Quake survivors used the embodied technique of singing to orient themselves in the face of sudden and violent rupture.

See also

Related Research Articles

The music of Martinique has a heritage which is intertwined with that of its sister island, Guadeloupe. Despite their small size, the islands have created a large popular music industry, which gained in international renown after the success of zouk music in the later 20th century. Zouk's popularity was particularly intense in France, where the genre became an important symbol of identity for Martinique and Guadeloupe. Zouk's origins are in the folk music of Martinique and Guadeloupe, especially Martinican chouval bwa, and Guadeloupan gwo ka. There's also notable influence of the pan-Caribbean calypso tradition and Haitian kompa.

The music of Guadeloupe encompasses a large popular music industry, which gained in international renown after the success of zouk music in the later 20th century. Zouk's popularity was particularly intense in France, where the genre became an important symbol of identity for Guadeloupe and Martinique. Zouk's origins are in the folk music of Guadeloupe and Martinique, especially Guadeloupan gwo ka and Martinican chouval bwa, and the pan-Caribbean calypso tradition.

Music of Dominica Music of Dominica

The music of Dominica includes a variety of genres including all the popular genres of the world. Popular music is widespread, with a number of native Dominican performers gaining national fame in imported genres such as calypso, reggae, soca, kompa, zouk and rock and roll. Dominica's own popular music industry has created a form called bouyon, which combines elements from several styles and has achieved a wide fanbase in Dominica. Groups include WCK, Native musicians in various forms, such as reggae, kadans (Ophelia Marie, and calypso, have also become stars at home and abroad.

The music of the Lesser Antilles encompasses the music of this chain of small islands making up the eastern and southern portion of the West Indies. Lesser Antillean music is part of the broader category of Caribbean music; much of the folk and popular music is also a part of the Afro-American musical complex, being a mixture of African, European and indigenous American elements. The Lesser Antilles' musical cultures are largely based on the music of African slaves brought by European traders and colonizers. The African musical elements are a hybrid of instruments and styles from numerous West African tribes, while the European slaveholders added their own musics into the mix, as did immigrants from India. In many ways, the Lesser Antilles can be musically divided based on which nation colonized them.

Webert Sicot was a Haitian saxophone player, composer and band leader. He is recognized as one of the creators of compas also known as compas direct, a style of Haitian music born in the 1950s that he named cadence rampa after he left Nemours' band to differentiate himself in 1962 in the spirit of competition.

Zouk is a musical movement pioneered by the French Antillean band Kassav' in the early 1980s. Ethnomusicologist Jocelyn Guilbault believes zouk's evolution was influenced by other Caribbean styles especially Dominica cadence-lypso, Haitian cadence and Guadeloupean biguine. Zouk arose in the late 1970s and early 1980s, using elements of previous styles of antillean music, as well as importing other genres.

Culture of Haiti

The culture of Haiti is an eclectic mix of African, Taino and European elements due to the French colonization of Saint Domingue and its large and diverse enslaved African population, as is evidenced in the Haitian language, music, and religion.

Kassav' is a French Caribbean band formed in Guadeloupe in 1979. The core members of the band are Jocelyne Béroard, Jean-Philippe Marthély, Patrick St. Eloi, Jean-Claude Naimro, Claude Vamur, and Georges Décimus. Kassav' have issued over 20 albums, with a further 12 solo albums by band members.

Compas is a modern méringue dance music of Haiti. The genre was popularized following the creation of Ensemble Aux Callebasses in (1955), which became Ensemble Nemours Jean-Baptiste In 1957. The frequent tours of the many Haitian bands have cemented the style in all the Caribbean. Therefore, compas is the main music of several countries such as Dominica and the French Antilles. Whether it is called zouk, where French Antilles artists of Martinique and Guadeloupe have taken it, or compas in places where Haitian artists have toured, this méringue style is influential in part of the Caribbean, Portugal, Cape Verde, France, part of Canada, South and North America.

Culture of Dominica

The culture of Dominica is formed by the inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Dominica. Dominica is home to a wide range of people. Although it was historically occupied by several native tribes, the Taíno and Island Caribs (Kalinago) tribes remained by the time European settlers reached the island. "Massacre" is a name of a river dedicated to the murders of the native villagers by French and British settlers, because the river ran red with blood for days. Each claimed the island and imported slaves from Africa. The remaining Caribs now live on a 3,700-acre (15 km2) Carib Territory on the east coast of the island. They elect their own chief.

Cadence rampa, or simply kadans, is a dance music and modern méringue popularized in the Caribbean by the virtuoso Haitian sax player Webert Sicot in the early 1960s. Cadence rampa was one of the sources of cadence-lypso. Cadence and compas are two names for the same Haitian modern meringue.

Cadence-lypso is a fusion of cadence rampa from Haiti and calypso from Trinidad & Tobago that has also spread to other English speaking countries of the Caribbean. Originated in the 1970s by the Dominican band Exile One on the island of Guadeloupe, it spread and became popular in the dance clubs around the Creole world and Africa as well as the French Antilles.

Mini-jazz is a reduced méringue-compas band format of the mid-1960s characterized by the rock band formula of two guitars, one bass, and drum-conga-cowbell; some use an alto sax or a full horn section, while others use a keyboard, accordion or lead guitar.

Rasin, also known as Haitian roots music, is a musical style that began in Haiti in the 1970s when musicians began combining elements of traditional Haitian Vodou ceremonial and folkloric music with various musical styles. The late 20th century style of this music links to the roots of Vodou tradition, where it came to be known as mizik rasin later in Haitian Creole. Modern-day, the movement is often referred to simply as "rasin" or "racine".

Méringue, also called méringue lente or méringue de salon, is a dance music and national symbol in Haiti. It is a string-based style played on the lute, guitar, horn section, piano, and other string instruments unlike the accordion-based merengue, and is generally sung in Haitian Creole and French, as well as in English and Spanish.

Culture of Martinique

As an overseas départment of France, Martinique's culture is French and Caribbean. Its former capital, Saint-Pierre, was often referred to as the Paris of the Lesser Antilles. Following French custom, many businesses close at midday, then reopen later in the afternoon. The official language is French, although many Martinicans speak a Creole patois. Based in French, Martinique's Creole also incorporates elements of English, Spanish, Portuguese, and African languages. Originally passed down through oral storytelling traditions, it continues to be used more often in speech than in writing.

Haitians Inhabitants citizens of Haiti and their descendants in the Haitian diaspora

Haitians are the citizens of Haiti and the descendants in the diaspora through direct parentage. An ethnonational group, Haitians generally comprise the modern descendants of self-liberated Africans in the Caribbean territory historically referred to as Saint-Domingue. This includes the mulatto minority who denote corresponding European ancestry, notably from French settlers. By virtue of historical distinction, the vast majority of Haitians share and identify with this common African lineage, though a small number are descendants of contemporary immigrants from the Levant who sought refuge in the island nation during World War I and World War II.

Haitian Carnival is a celebration held over several weeks each year leading up to Mardi Gras. Haitian Defile Kanaval is the Haitian Creole name of the main annual Mardi Gras carnival held in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Haitian rock, or rock kreyòl, started as rock n roll in Haiti in the early 1960s. It was played by rock bands called yeye bands. The name yeye derives from the Beatles lyrical verse, "yeah, yeah, yeah", which took off in the United States and was listened to by upper class Haitian families who had access to the radio. Young Haitians formed small electric guitar-based bands. These yeye rock bands were short-lived, as the addition of compas to their repertoires resulted in a sound was called mini-jazz, or mini-djaz in Haitian Creole.


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  9. Schwann Spectrum - Volume 7 1995 ... similar to Boukman's, has the advantage of lead singer Eddy François, whose rich, grainy voice can whip an audience into a frenzy, and guitarist Vladimir "Jimmy" Jean-Felix, who previously fronted Haiti's most popular rock band, Splash.
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