thirty-two years Yves Joseph and Tabou Combo have
been playing and extending the music of Haiti.
people know Haiti either from the news, where
its end-of-the-millennium social collapse played
almost nightly, or from its association with voodoo
in movies and TV. But there is also a great musical
tradition that offers a different view. Much of
the original slave population was from the Dahoumie
area of Africa. This was an area colonized by
France just as Haiti was, and the language served
as a bond and a point of commonality between the
two. The islands of the Caribbean, taken as a
whole, constitute a unique history lesson with
language as its chief artifact. The prevalence
of English, Spanish, French and Dutch serve as
reminders of which cultures shaped which territories.
The Creole French that evolved in Haiti is still
spoken there as well as French islands such as
Martinique and Guadeloupe. A musicologist looking
for the source of Haitian music will find it in
the African drums of Dahoumie and the lilting
rhythms of centuries of French patois. Those indigenous
rhythms became the basis of Haitian music, but
the region's Latin influences have shaped its
Haitian born Yves sees a shared genealogy in the
music of Haiti and that of Cuba.
times past Haitians used to go to Cuba to cut
cane for the sugar harvest. They'd bring back
the music and rhythms and vice versa. We bring
them the African rhythm; they bring us the Latin
rhythm. I think the basic Haitian music has been
created by this relationship."
Martin Cohen interviewed Yves he asked him to
talk about the music he plays and how it came
I was growing up we used to listen to a lot of
music from Santa Domingo and Cuba. And there were
a lot of bands coming from Cuba. In fact, the
great Celia Cruz came to Haiti at one point. So
Haitians are very much influenced by Latin music
and Cuban music. And I think the music we play,
which is called kompa has a lot to do with merengue
and Cuban music. We are the third generation today
playing kompa. It was created in 1955 and we began
playing in 1968. We were lucky enough to be the
ones to bring kompa to the world because we had
a big hit in 1975. It was called, "New York
City" and it sold a million copies in Europe."
was highly unusual for a West Indies band whose
greatest success normally comes from the community
of Caribbean islands. Tabou Combo's success owed
to both the popularity of Creole music in the
French speaking world and the modern global communication
network that allowed a small island the same access
to the world as a band in a major market. And
indeed Tabou Combo's appeal is greatest in French
speaking Europe as well as the French speaking
islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.
after its formation in Haiti the band came to
the United States. And Yves got his first LP conga.
you know how many congas, how many cowbells I've
bought from LP? I started buying from LP when
we first came to the United States in 1971. That's
when I got my original LP conga. It was very bright
and very yellow. Since then we've been buying
LP products for thirty-two years."
despite the name, Tabou Combo is no small group.
The band includes bass, percussionists, 2 guitars,
drums, keyboards, a horn section, and Yves.
are all about percussion. It's the rhythm; it's
where the vibration comes from. Without percussion
how can you have rhythm?"
African influence is also evident in the 2 guitars-usually
a fixture in contemporary music from the continent.
But the real story today is the continuing synthesis
and cross-pollination between ethnically diverse
forms of percussive music from Celtic to Cuban.
The African Diaspora continues to be one deep
well of inspiration.
we are very open to all kinds of cultures. So
many strains come together in the New York scene.
It's amazing how many different ethnic communities
exist in New York that most people aren't aware
of. And I think LP is going to open up the Haitian
community musically because we have so many great
drummers. It will also open up other areas of
the Caribbean. I'm just very happy to be here,
to be a pioneer-we're making history here."
quotes taken from an interview conducted by Martin
Cohen in the summer of 2000.
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