Just living is not enough
L'infatigable, Elle evolue au sein du groupe Zenglen
Jean Herard Richard
Richie, l'international, l’homme aux innombrables mérites
Roger M. Eugene
le légendaire, un pillier du Kompa
The Haitian music evolution
In the early 1900s, Haiti’s cultural landscape was profoundly shaped by the music from Cuba and its neighbors. At that time, the island nation lacked musical ensembles to propagate its indigenous rhythms. Dominated by vocal and locally confined elements, Haitian music—the folklore—was characterized by a tapestry of drums and voices.
The pivotal moment arrived in 1942 when brothers Rene and Ferdinand Dor resolved to establish a musical trio. Initially christened “Trio des Jeunes,” it soon evolved into “Conjunto des Jeunes.” In quick succession, this ensemble transformed into “Jazz des Jeunes,” steered by Rene St Aude, a renowned Haitian saxophonist. This marked the birth of Haiti’s very first band—a milestone that embodied their aspiration to uplift Haitian folklore. Among these trailblazing musicians were eminent figures such as Lumane Casimir, Gerard Dupervil, Emmanuel Auguste, and Antal Alcidas.
As Haiti’s premier big band, Jazz des Jeunes justified their epoch with remarkable mastery and talent. In 1951, they proudly represented Haiti at an event in Washington D.C., placing their nation’s music on the international stage for the first time; a crowning achievement for Haitian musical heritage.
For decades, Super Jazz des Jeunes held the reins of Haitian music, until prominent artists such as Nemours Jean Baptiste and Weber Sicot claimed the spotlight. Hailed as an extraordinary Haitian musician, Weber Sicot is renowned for founding Cadence Rampa, contributing to the development of Compas Direct alongside Nemours Jean-Baptiste, and for his incredible talent in various musical instruments. As an orchestra director and composer as well, Sicot remains an iconic figure in Haitian music. Born in Port-au-Prince in 1935, he had the honor of collaborating with reputed musicians like jazz pianist François Guignard. Sicot made his professional mark in the 1950s with Jazz Capois under Claudin Toussaint. Throughout his illustrious career, Sicot was associated with numerous orchestras both as a member and director. After parting ways with the Saieh Orchestra, he briefly collaborated with Nemours Jean-Baptiste’s Conjunto Internacional.
The precise duration of their collaboration remains contested by historians and critics alike. Nevertheless, it gave rise to the legendary rivalry between these two celebrated artists. As a member of Conjunto Internacional, Sicot had a hand in refining Compas Direct—an innovative genre that took inspiration from Dominican merengue and big band orchestras while incorporating mambo compas and other popular Caribbean rhythms—revolutionizing Haitian music in the process. Upon leaving Conjunto International, Sicot worked with Citadelle Orchestra, Casino International Band, and Orchestra Latino. In 1961, he conceived Cadence Rampa—a musical genre bearing similarities to Compas Direct but demonstrating a sophistication and complexity in its arrangements that set it apart. Numerous connoisseurs have posited that the essence of Cadence Rampa remains inherently more rooted in Cuban tradition when compared to Compas Direct.
Nemours Jean Baptiste: A Visionary of Haitian Music
In the rich tapestry of Haitian music history, one name stands out as a true pioneer and virtuoso: Nemours Jean Baptiste. Born on February 2, 1918, in Port au Prince, Haiti, Baptiste was destined to become one of the greatest musicians of his time. But it was his dream to create a new rhythm, one that would revolutionize Haitian music in the Caribbean and beyond.
During the 1950s, Haiti was on the cusp of adopting a new music style called “Le Compas Direct.” This was a significant departure from the traditional sounds that had dominated the music scene for centuries. And it was Nemours Jean Baptiste who would play a pivotal role in shaping this new genre.
However, Baptiste’s journey was not without its challenges. As with any visionary, he faced numerous obstacles and encountered those who were envious of his desire to be recognized as the father of this national rhythm. But, true to his character, Nemours remained undeterred and unwavering in his pursuit of his dream.
In his quest to create a unique sound, Baptiste drew inspiration from other influential musicians, such as Francois Guillard. Guillard, a talented master musician, shared the same goal of revaluing Haitian music and its cultural significance. Together, Baptiste and Guillard’s oldest son, Fefe Guillard, formed a trio known as Trio Anacaona.
Through their collaboration and shared vision, Baptiste and Guillard worked tirelessly to refine and perfect the new rhythm. They experimented with different musical elements and arrangements, incorporating influences from various genres such as jazz and Latin music. The result was a fresh and vibrant sound that resonated with the people of Haiti and the Caribbean.
Nemours Jean Baptiste’s dream was not just about creating a new rhythm; it was about celebrating the cultural identity of his beloved country. He understood the power of music to unite people, to ignite their spirits, and to give them a voice. And so, his efforts went beyond the stage and into the hearts of the Haitian people.
The impact of Nemours Jean Baptiste and his musical legacy cannot be overstated. Through his vision and determination, he laid the foundation for what would become one of Haiti’s most cherished genres of music. Le Compas Direct would go on to influence generations of musicians, shaping the cultural identity of Haiti and leaving an indelible mark on the music world.
Today, the spirit of Nemours Jean Baptiste lives on through the music he helped create. His dream continues to inspire musicians and music lovers alike, reminding us of the power of dreams, perseverance, and the ability of music to transcend borders and connect us all. In his own words, Baptiste once said, “I create music that reflects the soul of my people, and through it, I hope to bring joy and unity to all who listen.”
And so, we remember Nemours Jean Baptiste as not just a musical genius but as a visionary who dared to dream, who dared to defy conventions, and who forever changed the landscape of Haitian music. His contributions to the world of music are immeasurable, and his legacy will continue to shine brightly, reminding us to never stop dreaming and to always strive for greatness.