Haiti Direct: Big Band, Mini Jazz and Twoubadou Sounds, 1960–1978
A remarkably consistent and fascinating collection examining Haiti’s rich musical culture
Though just as rich, multi-faceted and deeply rooted, Haiti’s musical culture has never attained anything like the international profile enjoyed by those of its neighbours Jamaica and Cuba. Compiled by tropicalia archaeologist Hugo Mendez of the Sofrito collective, and released by archive label Strut, this two-disc collection explores trends in the island’s musical development during the 1960s and 70s.
Given the country’s colonial history and geographic locale, it’s unsurprising that many of these tracks are intriguing hybrids, incorporating elements of Latin American, African, North American and European (especially French) music. Les Vikings’ ‘Choc Vikings’ is a great example of this, a combination of Dominican merengue rhythms and glittering West African-style guitar licks that skips along in irresistible fashion, while funk bass meets scorching riffs, jazzy Rhodes fusion and Latin cowbell on ‘Pile Ou Face’ by Les Loups Noirs.
Some of the most compelling tracks, like those by Pierre Blain Et Orchestre Murat Pierre and Ra Ra De Léogane, are ones in which the African influence is to the fore, hinting at the ecstatic rhythms of voodoo ceremonial music. Best of all is Scorpio Universel’s unbelievably funky and exuberant stomper ‘Ti Lu Lu Pe’, a constantly mutating patchwork that’s a beautifully dizzying encapsulation of the culturally cross-pollinating Haitian sound.
Considering that it spans 18 years, 27 artists and a wide range of styles, this is a remarkably consistent and fascinating collection, with a more or less relentless pulse and joyous mood throughout. A little momentum is lost only on a mere handful of tracks, where the style leans towards the more polite and tasteful end of traditional Latin music. Overall, Haiti Direct is engaging, approachable and extremely groovesome – and a welcome riposte to the negative clichés unfairly associated with Haiti after several decades’ worth of schlocky movies.