Haitian culture combines a wide range of influences drawn from the many people who have settled this Caribbean island nation. It reflects French, African, native Taino (one of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean), and Spanish elements. The country's culture is a blend of the tradtions of these groups and others who have inhabited the island of Hispaniola—the island Haiti shares with its neighbor, the Dominican Republic. Haitian music is a rich mingling of these influences from the nation’s history as well: European styles and instruments introduced through colonization, and African rhythms and song structures, brought by slavery.
One unique form of Haitian music is Kompa, a complex music that fuses African rhythms and European ballroom dance. In Spanish the word “Compás” means “beat” or “pulse.” One of the most distinctive characteristics of Kompa music is the consistent, pulsing drum beat, which makes it easy to dance to.
The clips in this player highlight just a few of the musical styles from Haiti—here are some things to think about as you listen:
Beat. Listen to the music performed by groups like Azor and Tabou Combo to see if you can hear the infectious, pulsing Kompa beat. Even between those two groups (or even different songs by the same group), the rhythms are a bit different.
European influences. Haitian music relies on heavily on African rhythms and beat patterns, but not all the music in this player feature these influences. Listen to the performances by Reginald Policard and Felina Backer. Can you identify European influences? (Hint: Look at the instruments being used, and ways the artists use their voices.) What other musical styles might you include when describing their music?
Language. While the people of many of the other Caribbean nations are predominantly Hispanic (Spanish-speaking), Haiti is the only mainly-Francophone (French-speaking) nation in the Americas. Many Haitians speak Haitian Creole, a language that merges French, some African languages, Arabic, Spanish and other languages brought to the island over time. Many of the performers sing in one language, or a combination of languages, including English. Listen to the Creole songs by Felina Backer and Tabou Combo; even if you do not understand the language, can you get the meaning of the song? How?