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Yves Joseph

For thirty-two years Yves Joseph and Tabou Combo have been playing and extending the music of Haiti.

Most 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 contemporary character.

The Haitian born Yves sees a shared genealogy in the music of Haiti and that of Cuba.

"In 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."

When Martin Cohen interviewed Yves he asked him to talk about the music he plays and how it came about.

"When 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."

This 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.

Shortly after its formation in Haiti the band came to the United States. And Yves got his first LP conga.

"Do 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."

And despite the name, Tabou Combo is no small group. The band includes bass, percussionists, 2 guitars, drums, keyboards, a horn section, and Yves.

"We are all about percussion. It's the rhythm; it's where the vibration comes from. Without percussion how can you have rhythm?"

The 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.

"Now 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."

All quotes taken from an interview conducted by Martin Cohen in the summer of 2000.

To learn more about Yves Joseph, CLICK HERE.