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Various Artists: Tanbou Toujou Lou: Merengue, Kompa Kreyou, Vodou Jazz & Electric Folklore from Haiti (1960-1981)

Chris M. Slawecki By

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For most listeners, Tanbou Toujou Lou: Merengue, Kompa Kreyou, Vodou Jazz & Electric Folklore from Haiti (1960-1981) will capture snapshots from a distant place—"the pearl of the Caribbean," Haiti. But for ALL listeners, it will capture snapshots from a distant, sometimes socially and politically turbulent, era.

Tanbou Toujou Lou illustrates the different colors of music drawn by Haiti's unique geographic location amongst the rhythmic, melodic, and spiritual connections between the Caribbean and West Africa. Merengue danced in from the Dominican Republic to the east. From the south, Columbia introduced accordion-and guitar-driven cumbia. Cuba, its neighbor to the north (and still a strong economic and cultural ally), contributed mambo, guajira, and Afro-Cuban rhythms to this sweltering musical melting pot. Threads from the Harlem Renaissance also wove their way south into Haiti's sound.

From the late 1950s into the early 1970s, many Haitians fled their homeland to escape the repressive rule of François Duvalier, ultimately planting deep Haitian roots in Miami and New York City, especially in and around Brooklyn. Tanbou Toujou Lou is culled from radio archives and private collections from Port-au-Prince to Brooklyn. "I lost count of the homes, basements, and garages I had trawled through, in the depths of winter, in parts of the city detached from public transport. It goes without saying, there's a lot of Haitian vinyl in New York," wrote researcher, curator and producer Vik Sohonie. Sadly, many local archives were destroyed in the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010.

Much of Tanbou Toujou Lou sounds primitive but not simple. "Lagen" from Zotobré—a 1970s Haitian all-star band including composer, bandleader and saxophonist Webert Sicot—kicks off like a party and makes you want to dance, no matter its cultural or chronological distance. "Gislene" was the first tune written by co-founder and guitarist Albert Chancy for Tabou Combo, a genuine institution in Haiti's musical culture of the 1960s, and glides on the twin rails of accordion and electric guitar while vocal chants arise like spirits from the shadowy corners of its hot dancehall rhythm. (Chancy served as advisor to former Haitian President Michel Martelly.)

Psychedelic guitar fringes in "Rapadou" (Rodrigue Milien et Son Groupe Combite Creole) make it clear that the impact of Jimi Hendrix's experiments with the "electric" part of "electric guitar" were truly heard all around the world. Electric guitar also cuts sharp and bright to graft together American funk and Caribbean dance rhythms in "Diable La" (Les Shleu Shleu). The party winds down with "Meci Bon Dieu" (Orchestre de la Radio National D'Haiti), an intricate arrangement of male and female vocals, rhythm section, and ensemble and solo horns.

Tanbou Toujou Lou also includes a 20-page booklet with vintage photos from across the Haitian diaspora, and an encyclopedic history of the Haitian sound and its traditional Vodou rhythms.

Track Listing: Lagen (Zotobré); Francine (Les Gypsies de Petionville); Bebe Showman (Les Loups Noirs); Gislene (Tabou Combo); La Vie Vieux Negre (Coupe Cloue et Trio Select); Rapadou (Rodrigue Milien et Son Groupe Combite Creole); Pele Rien (Les Loups Noirs); Erzulie Oh! (Super Jazz de Jeunes); Haiti Cumbia (Neymour Jean Baptiste); Prend Courage (Ensemble Webert Sicot); Lonin (Super Jazz de Jeunes); Tripotage (Ensemble Etoile du Soir); Lola (Chanel 10); Madeline (Super Choucoune 70); Samba Pachas No. 2 (Les Pachas du Canape Vert); Souffrance (Ibo Combo); Diable La (Les Shleu Shleu); Epoque Chaleur (Shupa Shupa); Meci Bon Dieu (Orchestre de la Radio National D'Haiti).

Personnel: Zotobré (Lagen); Les Gypsies de Petionville (Francine); Les Loups Noirs (Bebe Showman); Tabou Combo (Gislene); Coupe Cloue et Trio Select (La Vie Vieux Negre); Rodrigue Milien et Son Groupe Combite Creole (Rapadou); Les Loups Noirs (Pele Rien); Super Jazz de Jeunes (Erzulie Oh!); Neymour Jean Baptiste (Haiti Cumbia); Ensemble Webert Sicot (Prend Courage); Super Jazz de Jeunes (Lonin); Ensemble Etoile du Soir (Tripotage); Chanel 10 (Lola); Super Choucoune 70 (Madeline); Les Pachas du Canape Vert (Samba Pachas No. 2); Ibo Combo (Souffrance); Les Shleu Shleu (Diable La); Shupa Shupa (Epoque Chaleur); Orchestre de la Radio National D'Haiti (Meci Bon Dieu).

Title: Tanbou Toujou Lou: Merengue, Kompa Kreyou, Vodou Jazz & Electric Folklore from Haiti (1960-1981) | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Ostinato Records


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