Haiti’s music is as diverse as its culture. It draws inspiration and utilizes traditions from Taíno, African, French, and Caribbean musical styles.
Méringue is related to the merengue styles that originated in the Dominican Republic; however, méringue doesn’t use the accordion, but rather sticks with just the guitar. Its popularity has waned over the years, giving way to kompa (or compas). Musician Nemours Jean-Baptiste brought kompa to the forefront of popular music during the 1950s.
Rara is a type of religious-based music traditionally performed during Lent (from Ash Wednesday until Easter). It ties Christian themes with Vodou themes. Often, these rara bands perform during Rara processionals, seemingly many times at night.
During the 1960s and 1970s, another variation of méringue formed called mini-jazz. Many of these bands were usually made of two guitars, a bass, a brass section, a saxophone, drum, conga, cowbell, and sometimes a keyboard or accordion. Another style that developed out of méringue is zouk and zouk-love, and it’s related to another style called cadence. These styles spread out and created variations throughout the Caribbean.
Rock bands emerged during the 1960s, but it was very much mixed with kompa music. Haitian rock music did incorporate a lot of Caribbean sounds (like reggae and others) during the 1990s. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, a youth movement developed out of frustration with the Duvalier dictatorship. Much of this movement involved a move back to rural life and shunning corporate capitalistic life; people donned the Bob Marley-esque hippie look with peasant clothes and dreadlocks. And out of this environment came a style of music that fused rock, reggae, and funk called mizik rasin, or roots music.
Dance is very much an integral part of Haitian life and Haitian music. Kompa dancing obviously accompanies kompa music. Fast movements accent the upbeat tempos. Méringue dancing is slightly slower but still uses the whole body in its movements. Dancing is often performed during various religious ceremonies and celebrations. These religious dances also are heavily based on Vodou themes and symbolism, which are often based on dance traditions brought over from West Africa. Dance is an important part of Haitian culture, and they are very proud of it.
Haitian hip-hop is also a pretty popular genre starting in the 1990s. A lot of Haitian hip-hop incorporates kompa rhythms and melodies as the basis of the music, and much of the lyrics reflect the socio-political struggles that are often reflected in hip-hop music around the world. It also can pull from other genres such as jazz, blues, reggae, or dancehall.
One of the most famous musicians from Haiti is rapper Wyclef Jean. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time. He first gained fame from his work with the group The Fugees along with Lauryn Hill and Pras. I have the album The Score, which was released in 1996. I’d say the best songs on the album are “Ready or Not,” “Killing me Softly,” “No Woman, No Cry,” and “Fu-Gee-La.” I also listened to the album Playlist: The Very Best of Wyclef Jean. There were a lot of songs on here that I like. I like his style; it often incorporates funk and reggae and other US-Caribbean-Latin styles with hip-hop. Many songs often utilize skits and sentiments on the struggles of urban life with a socio-political commentary.
Another hip-hop artist I found is Fam-Squad, who has very much of a typical US sound. Several songs almost have a jazz or R&B sound underneath it, but other songs almost have a dance or electronica sound to it. I also ran across an artist named Muzion who tends to use a lot of sampling from classical music styles to jazz and funk. I liked the two songs found. Barikad Crew has a pretty good album called R.E.D. Many of the songs sound like reggaeton, but without the characteristic reggaeton rhythms. Most songs are accompanied by accented strings motifs with lyrics sung in Kreyòl.
Another musician I came across is Boukman Eksperyans. This music falls in the category of mizik rasin. I listened to the album La Révolte Des Zombies. It seems like the music was influenced by hip-hop, a style called twoubadou, reggae, and other styles. Eddy François is another musician in this style, but his music reminds me of a little more smooth jazz.
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