Listen to 3 essential Haitian albums

One of the exciting parts about working on the Kanaval: Haitian Rhythms & The Music of New Orleans documentary was discovering so much amazing Haitian music. Below are five highly recommended albums that the producers discovered during their work on the project.

Nemours Jean-Baptiste was a Haitian saxophonist born in Port-Au-Prince, and is credited with being the inventor of compas music, a form of Haitian meringue dance music. Listen to the classic 1961 album, The Sensation Of The Day.

Writing about Haiti’s Jean Gesner Henry, music journalist and music programmer Marcos Juarez says:

Henry, dubbed Coupé Cloué during his early years of playing professional soccer in Port-au-Prince, was one of the most influential performers and composers of Haitian music in the latter half of the twentieth century. While the vast majority of his recordings were issued under the Coupé Cloué moniker, his earlier recordings as the singer and leader of Trio Select mark a crucial moment in the evolution of Hatian popular music. Trio Select was formed on September 6, 1957, according to the back of the album. The group featured Gesner Henry and Raphael Benito on vocals, Georges Celestin on lead guitar, Andres Serant on second guitar, Colbert Desir on percussion, and Prospect on bass. Gesner Henry was known for his humorous use of double entendres and colloquial slang, endearing him to his public and earning him the nickname, “La Coqueluche D’Haiti” or “The Whooping Cough of Haiti.” At least that’s what it says in the album notes, but I can’t help but think that something is lost in translation.

Of the Trio Select albums, Plein Caille released in 1971 on the burgeoning Brooklyn based Marc Records, is perhaps the most thoroughly satisfying and rewarding. Although the larger ensemble sound of the Konpa Direk of Nemours Jean Baptiste and the Cadence Rampa of Webert Sicot had opened the flood gates in the early 1960’s and on into the 70’s for a slew of Haitian bands performing in that style, Gesner Henry’s Trio Select is firmly rooted in the subdued Cuban Son and Bolero influenced Twoubadou style. The vocal harmonies are sublime giving the slower pieces a beautiful melancholy quality. The guitar work is stellar as well. Listen to Plein Caille below.

Finally, Orchestre Tropicana‘s 1978 album, Doux Tropic, is a high energy Latin and jazz influenced collection of compas, from one of Haiti’s longest standing and influential bands.