Considering its influence on music throughout the Caribbean and South America, it seems remarkable that this new compilation is the first in-depth look at Haiti’s golden age of the 60s and 70s. Making up for lost time, Strut have produced a collection that’s broad in scope, detailed in its sleevenotes and packed with a raft of outstanding music.
Supported by the notorious Papa Doc Duvalier, Haiti’s music scene began to flourish in the late 50s. At the forefront was bandleader Nemours Jean-Baptiste, who updated the country’s indigenous méringue style by slowing down its pace, adding complex arrangements and electric guitars to create a new form he named Compas Direct. The fallout from this revolutionary sound can be heard across this collection, as successive bands adapted Baptiste’s innovative blueprint to current trends. Early efforts, such as Pierre Blain At Orchestre Murat Pierre’s wonderful Jouc Li Jou demonstrate the popularity of the big band, while there are some fine representations of the scaled-down “mini-jazz” sound of the 60s, such as Tabou Combo’s Ce Pas.
Perhaps the best fun is to be had on the later work, where a whole host of foreign influences has infiltrated. Les Loups Noirs’ Pile Ou Face pitches saxophones, distorted guitars and screamed vocals over a rolling compass beat. It sounds like a Haitian Stooges and is worth the purchase price alone.