This discography is from The Rough Guide to World Music (Volume 2: Latin and North America, Caribbean, India, Asia and Pacific)
CD = recommended first buy
cd = compact disc
t = tape only
v = vinyl only
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CD Angels in the Mirror: Vodou Music of Haiti
(Ellipsis Arts, US)
This astonishing release acts as a virtual tour of the Haitian countryside and the diversity of its hard-grooving voodoo-influenced music. It includes Haiti's major African drum patterns, each of which has produced a music as rhythmically compelling and distinct as salsa or calypso, rural adaptations of colonial music such as menwat (Haitian minuet), and a dance ensemble that has been in continuous existence since its stint as a seventeenth-century French military band. The CD comes with a 64-page introduction to Haitian music and voodoo, including background on each track, folktales, recipes and sixty beautiful color photographs.
cd Caribbean Revels
(Smithsonian Folkways, US)
A remarkable disc capturing the rough and ready sound of authentic ra-ra, recorded in cemeteries and streets in Haiti in the late 1970s.
cd Haiti Cherie
(Corason, Mexico; Rounder, US)
Mèringue, very unlike the fast and furious merengue from the neighbouring Dominican Republic, is a gentle, almost dreamy guitar-based music. This a selection of the work of four of the street orchestras known as ti bands.
CD Konbit: Burning Rhythms of Haiti
This superb compilation by film-maker Jonathan Demme was made with the collaboration of compas fans The Neville Brothers, who play on a couple of tracks, and it perfectly illustrates the trends of the past forty years. Opening with Nemours Jean Baptiste and compas direct, the selection then moves through mini-jazz units, big-band synth-era sounds and ra-ra beat from Sanba-Yo before it finally bows out with the funk of Sakad.
CD Rhythms of Rapture: Sacred Musics of Haitian Vodou
(Smithsonian Folkways, US)
This is the best introduction to the roots movement that has reclaimed Haitian folk music. It includes a dozen field recordings of the music in its traditional form, from menwat bands to voodoo ceremonies and women singing in the street as they walk to the market. Interspersed are acoustic roots selections from popular bands like Ra-Ra Machine and Troupe Mackandal along with electronic voodoo music from RAM, Boukan Ginen and Boukman Eksperyans. Of special historic significance is the first-ever recording of music from a super-secret Bizango society rite. The booklet insert features a series of terrific essays on Haitian musical styles.
Haiti's great, late Creole diva, Toto Bissainthe spent long years in exile in Paris before her death in 1994. She had a big, theatrical voice and sung to acoustic ra-ra rhythms created often by just bass and percussion.
cd Haiti Chant
(Chant du Monde, France)
In this live performance dating from the early 1980s, the "Queen Minstrel" takes an experimental approach to her island's traditional drum and vocal music, creating an exhilarating and sometimes startling mix of relentless groove and moving ballads.
Roots band Boukan Gine were formed by ex-members of Boukman Eksperyans in 1990 and, like the mother-lode band, they sing in Creole against a thunderous backdrop of rhythms. Latterly they have added reggae and Cuban influences into their mix.
cd Jou a Rive
The band's 1995 debut remains their strongest disc, with some great vocal harmonies and no-holds bass and drums.
Formed in 1979, and named after a Voodoo priest who was in the vanguard of the 1804 uprising against the French, Boukman Eksperyans are notable both for their fearless musical experimentation and the brave political edge to their lyrics - their 1990 carnival song "Keím Pa Sote" (I'm Not Afraid) was an anthem in the protests that led to the collapse of dictator Prosper Avril. They are still based in Port-au-Prince, a big band led by "ëLôlo' Beaubrun, and veterans of many global tours. Catch them live if you possibly can.
CD Libeté (Pan Pou Pran'l)
Libeté (Freedom - Let's Take it) reflects the political turmoil of the time of its creation with its urgent, thrilling sound. Along with cd Vodou Adjè and cd Kalfou Danjerè (Mango, UK), it demonstrates Boukman's direction of the 1980s and early 1990s, when they spurned compas for other rhythms, especially ra-ra music. There are strong influences from the US in the guitar parts, and from neighbouring Jamaica in the bass lines. All three albums are highly recommended.
(Tuff Gong/WEA, US)
This 1998 offering from Boukman continues along their intriguing path of mingling political comment, ancestral African roots music and danceable rhythms.
Ti-Coca (David Mettelus) is one of the best singers in Haiti today, creating an old-time compas music backed by his accordion-led acoustic quintet, Ouanga Negues.
CD Haiti: Ti-Coca, Toto Bissainthes
(World Network, Germany)
A gorgeous compilation from the Network label. Ti-Coca is featured on ten songs, which show elements of merengue and Cuban bolero creeping into the compas mix, and a gentle lilt from both voice and accordion. As a bonus, the CD rounds off with three songs from Toto Bissainthe (see above).
Coupé Cloué was the nickname of professional football player Jean Gesner Henri (1925-98), and became the name of his compas-direct dance orchestra. This thrived for decades, up until his death, with a sound enriched by his soukous-derived guitar style.
cd Maximum Compas from Haiti
A fine album that epitomises Coupé Cloué's lush, languorous, guitar-led style and long Creole addresses. There is a strong Cuban influence detectable in several of the tracks.
Ensemble Nemours Jean Baptiste
Saxophonist Nemours Jean Baptiste (born in Port-au-Prince, 1918) was a creator of modern compas and Haiti's most influential bandleader. His heyday was in the 1950s and 1960s, which he spent in a kind of feud with his Antillean 'rival', cadence-originator Webert Sicot.
CD Musical Tour of Haiti
(Ansonia Records, US)
This great collection of tracks showcases Baptiste's punchy, rhythmic band of the 1960s, featuring saxophone, accordion and a brass section that swaggers its way across the beat of a pumping bass drum and driving cowbell.
The Mini All Stars
cd Mini All Stars: Fanatiques Compas
An addictively swinging tribute to Nemours Jean-Baptiste, with new, but faithful arrangements of classic Nemours hits, memorably performed by former colleagues and worthy heirs.
One third of The Fugees - the mega-selling Haitian-Americans - Wyclef Jean was born in Haiti in 1970, as he makes reference to even in the name of his band (from Refugees). Following the success of The Fugees' soulful hip hop album The Score (1996), he has popped up all over the US music scene, producing, writing and remixing for everyone from Santana to the Neville Brothers, and has also toured his own Haitian-inflected solo material.
cd Wyclef Jean Presents the Carnival Featuring Refugee Allstars
This is basically a hip hop album but it is also a distinctly Haitian one, with raps in Creole as well as English. There is also a guest spot from Cuban exile Celia Cruz on the Cuban classic a cappella number, "Guantanamera".
Before Nemours Jean Baptiste came along, Orchestre Septentrional and their longstanding rivals Orchestre Tropicana d'Haiti defined the sound of big band dance music on the island.
p La Boule de Feu Internationale '40th Anniversaire'
(Marc Records, Haiti)
A wonderful recording that retains the sound of the 1940s and 1950s, with duelling trumpets and saxophones, wild guitar and masses of swing.
Orchestre Tropicana d'Haiti
Tropicana d'Haiti were the great rival of Orchestre Septentrional (see above) through the 1940s and 1950s.
CD La Fusée d'Or
This disc pointedly claims (in its sleeve notes) to represent "for fifteen years the only big Haitian orchestra of an international quality". Traditional Haitian rivalry aside, the vocals are sublime and the rhythm the usual mixture of local grooves, calypso and mambo with a higher than usual proportion of roots elements.
Port-au-Prince-based Ra-Ra Machine, led by singer and percussionist Clifford Sylvain, feature a fusion of Haitian countryside's populist voodoo music with rap and Latin grooves. At times they move away from electronics and play some of the best acoustic roots music going.
cd Vodou Nou
A series of transformations performed on traditional Haitian roots music, including electronics, Latin grooves and some rap. Other cuts are pure acoustic voodoo music with a cappella choruses reminiscent of South Africa's Ladysmith.
Shleu Shleu were one of the products of Haiti's beat boom - the 1960s mini-jazz era.
v Haiti mon pays
(Ibo Records, Haiti)
A record that is the epitome of the beat boom era, with its 'uptown Port-au-Prince' sound, featuring topical songs about Haiti, baseball, fishing and girls.
Profoundly influential, Skah Shah was one of the very first bands to create a fusion of compas with Latin music and funk. They're still one of the most popular bands working in New York's Haitian community.
(Mini Records, US)
One of the best products of New York's 1970s cultural fusions, mixing the typical guitar-based sound of compas with a spicy salsa-inspired brass section.
The best Haitian group working in New York today, with a more authentic Haitian compas sound than the funk fusions of their competitors.
(Louis Productions, Haiti/US)
The classic System Band album with muscly, jazz-influenced horn lines over classic compas rhythms.
cd System Live
(Louis Productions, Haiti/US)
A brilliant concert album that provides some of the fire of live Haitian performance that can't quite be replicated in the recording studio.
The Fugees aside, Brooklyn-based Tabou Combo are probably the best known of all Haitian bands. They have, incredibly, been at the forefront of Haitian music for more than thrity years - since their 1969 debut album, 8ème Sacrement - and have moved from straightforward compas into fusions with first zouk and latterly rap.
cd 8ème Sacrement
(Mini Records, US)
(Mini Records, US)
These two discs drop compas into Brooklyn's Caribbean cauldron and fish it out again to discover how famously meandering accordion and Cuban-style conga can get along.
Zèklè, one of the bands at the heart of the 1980s Nouvel Jenerayshun scene, made a welcome return in 1994 with their album San Mele.
cd San Mele
(Nouvel Jenerayson Records, US)
Sharp songs from Ralph Boncy and Joël Widmaier, and a neat pop sensibility that is enhanced by the bright electric sound typical of the era. A gem.
A Nouvel Jenerayshun band from New York, Zin were one of the first to introduce rap to the compas beat.
A blend of zouk, compas and soul fired up by the urban beat of the street.