Believe it or not, there was a time when Haiti wasn't ruled by a dictator, had a prosperous middle-class, a vibrant night life. Let's go back to those days...well, actually, to a nutty '50s chacha novelty that surely rocked many a tiki bar, sung by a saucy American. This tune used to be a staple of my exotica mixes. Bailey doesn't really sing the inane lyrics so much as do a Mae West-like drawl:
Pearl Bailey "Haiti Blues"
How 'bout we get a bit more authentic? From Haiti's most famous exports (apart from the Fugees), a more recent classic from these compas (pronounced "kome-PAH") legends:
Tabou Combo "Pase Sou Ou" - like they say: "too, too funky"
Compas is more like African styles such as soukous then most Carribean musics, but if I were to compare compas to, say, calypso/soca, dancehall, or salsa, I'd say it's like comparing Al Green to James Brown - it's more smooth and subtle. Must be that French influence. It still rocks the party like a mutha, tho.
The father of compas was Nemours Jean Baptiste, and in the early '80s the Mini All Stars (musicians of the New York-based Mini Records label) covered some of his hits, taking advantage of the modern recording technology of their new American home. This album is a non-stop party, with tracks like the berserk Mardi Gras anthem "Carnaval Compas Direct" comitting total dance-floor mayhem:
Mini All Stars "Fanatiques Compas"
Nemours was sick and blind by the early '80s and died in '85, so I'm glad that he lived long enough to experience these recordings' huge success in the Haitian music world.
Here's an album recorded off of worn vinyl - I cleaned up the audio as much as possible, but this 1970 release features such devasting compas (like the title track and "Le Vrai Bonheur") that cd-quality sound really doesn't matter. Still, I hope the band reunion of last year will spur these guys on to reissue this classic:
Les Gypsies de Petion-Ville "Haiti"
The now Florida-based madman guitarist of the band, Robert Martino, has a seemingly endless bag of catchy riffs at his disposal. Good luck, Haitian peoples!