Haitian music is undeniably African, which should come as no surprise due to Haiti’s unique history as the only nation to ride an African slave revolt to independence. Though most of the nation’s popular music finds its inspiration beyond the African voudon religion, almost all of Haiti’s musical forms find their roots in African rhythm and spirit.
In the early 20th century Haiti developed a tradition of “twobadou” (troubadour) music, which was a personal, folksy style like American blues or Cuban son. In the ’30s and ’40s, big bands were all the rage and by the ’50s Haitian band leader Nemours Jean-Baptiste had pioneered a style known as compas, which wedded Haitian folk music with meringue rhythms, African percussion and American big band jazz (and rival saxaphone player Weber Sicot countered with his own musical “attack,” which he called the “cadence rampa“). In the late ’60s Haitian “mini-jazz” put extra kick into compas by adding electric instruments and the drive of rock ‘n roll. There was also a return to Haitian rural music, with bamboo-horn blowing “rara” bands spilling folk music into the street. (More about rara below).
Recently Haiti’s music has become a melting pot of local and international folk, jazz, funk, blues, soul and African styles. While “Mizik rasin”–“roots music”–has become popular, consciously fusing traditional Afro-Haitian voudon rhythm with modern forms (more about “mizik rasin” below), international hip-hop, such as the music of the Fugees (featuring Haitian-born Wyclef Jean), resonates with Haitian youth.
Visit AATW’s Caribbean Musical Genres page or explore these Haitian musical genres:
Explore these All Around This World songs from Haiti: