This rare international release is a loose-limbed, rootsy treat.
Jon Lusk 2009-07-28
Often dubbed 'the poorest country in the western hemisphere', Haiti is synonymous with politically-inspired corruption and violence, environmental disaster and a level of general chaos and dysfunction that simply beggars belief. Now that you're not going on holiday to this benighted Caribbean country, why not settle for an example of its rich but often overlooked musical culture? The boyish 59-year-old Ti-Coca and his excellent band Wanga-Nègès have been playing their acoustic twoubadou ('troubadour') music since 1976, and this rare international release is a loose-limbed, rootsy treat.
Aside from a couple of personnel changes, they sound much as they did on the great 1999 album (on the German label Network) they shared with the late Toto Bissainthe. The basic arrangement of see-sawing double bass, slithering accordion, plunky banjo, percussion and call-and-response vocals is the same, and alters little from song to song. But there's plenty of variety in their different styles, which range from folklore to pop – it seems they are a covers-only band.
On the more rough-hewn, upbeat side of things, there are several types of music associated with Haiti's ritualistic 'vodou' religion, such as the petwo, yanvalou and kongo. The rest of the album is devoted to smoother, more accessible genres. The oldest is the contredanse, originally a French style derived from English roots, still hinted at by its slightly square rhythm.
There's also the Haitian méringue, slower and slinkier than its cousin the merengue, from the neighbouring Dominican Republic. This later gave rise to konpa (also called 'compas') a deliciously relaxed style that can be heard in more polished forms on albums by Coupé Cloué, Mini All Stars et al. Taking up five of the 14 tracks, konpa appears to be Ti-Coca's default setting, though there's also a brief foray into Cuban bolero.
According to the handsomely presented CD booklet, David Mettelus (a.k.a Ti-Coca) got his nickname from someone likening his diminutive stature to a small coke bottle. He has a raspy, lived-in voice and can morph from crooner to gruff, alcohol-crazed contredanse 'caller' or various hooting, screeching jungle denizens. Once heard, he isn't easily forgotten.