Haitian Music And Government

by Emily Johnson and Kyle Marshall


Haitian Style and Sound by Emily Johnson

Haitian music has original ties from Europe and slavery. It also has a Spanish influence with roots from Cuba. Haitian music is derived from ceremonial traditions and Compas. Haitian music can be divided into many different types and sub-genres within itself. Since its beginning, Haitian music has become way more diverse and worked its way into more modern music.

Types and Growth of Haitian Music



Example of Rara music
Rara music has strong ties to the Vodou religion. It is performed between Ash Wednesday through Easter morning in a celebration known as Carnival. There is a huge masquerade and elaborate costumes. The parade has floats and and dance bands performing on the back of flat bed trucks. The rara involves a male voodoo priest called an ougan and a female voodoo priest called a mambo. A ceremony is performed under the mapuo tree and are bathed in leaves to protext the performers and their instruments from the dangers they may face while performing on the streets. Instruments for the Rara Music celebration include cylndrical bamboo trumpets (vaksen), drums, maracas, guiras, and metal bells. Modern day instruments may also include the saxophone and trumpets.


Mizik Rasin- “Roots Music”

Boukman Eksperyans - Kalfou Danjere

Mizik Rasin began in the 1970’s. The music followed trends in black power. The musicians and followers dressed in blue denim and eventually adopted the style of matted hair similar to the dreadlock. Muzik Rasin incorporated reggaue, rock, and funk with the traditional forms of Rara and traditional spiritual music of Haiti.


Compas or Kompa

This genre of music was popularized in the 1950’s by saxophone and guitar player, Nemours Jean Baptiste with his popular song “De P’ti Piti Kalbass”. It has a mix of European ballroom dance music, but went through many changes where it was also influenced by salsa, cuban, mambo and many more.


Mini Jazz

Mini jazz is one the first fully Haitian styles of pop. The instruments included were full horn sections and synthesizers. It was a mix of American and French style. Tabou Combo released the album “Haiti” in 1969 with funk influences and it increased the popularilty of the Haitian music scene around the world.


Haitian rap

Rockfam Kanaval 2008 Kouvrefe Zamor

Sweetest girl- Wycleaf Jean ft. Akon and Lil Wayne

Haitian rap is made up of Compas being used with local music and urban sounds. Haitian rap is also known as Hip Hop Kreyol. This music is often times hardcore beats with local artists rapping in Kreyol. It is a relatively new and popular style of music. Topics and themes of the songs often result from the struggling conditions the artists grew up under. The two most legendary Haitian hip hop rappers are Wyclef Jean, seen on the left, and Pras Michael. Haitian rap is one of the post powerful music genres to come from Haiti. Pioneers from this genre include Master Dji and O.R.S.

The Emergence of Self-Governed Political Rule in Haiti and its Relationship with Music by Kyle Marshall


Haitian people throughout the history of their nation have voiced their opinions when the government does not represent the people. In 1804, the slave based French colony of Saint-Domingue revolted turning it into an independent nation, Haiti (Daly, 2010). It is a nation that formed through corrupt governments, little wealth, and natural disasters of the Gulf. Since its beginnings poverty has hindered its growth. Jean-Jacques Dessalines was the commander of the black and mulatto forces and took control as the countries first leader under a dictatorial constitution (Federal Research Division, 1989). The land has been destroyed from years of fighting, agriculture base non-existent, and the population was uneducated and unskilled (Federal Research Division, 1989). The social structure of Haiti transformed into a West African slave class of blacks that was dominated by light-skinned wealthy mulattos of black and French origin balancing power with the military (Federal Research Division, 1989). The Haitian upper-class moved their concentrations to urban affairs such as government while the lower class remained agriculture based. In 1844, Haiti split into two with the creation of the Dominican Republic (Daly, 2010). American occupation during World War II gave Haiti protection from German invasion and sewage, roads, hospitals, and other infrastructure developed (Daly, 2010). Once the Americans left, voodoo followers and followers of the Catholic Church fought for power. Voodoo was brought over from West Africa when the French imported slaves and later syncretized with Catholicism (Daly, 2010). Voodoos believe that their religion can coexist with Catholicism since certain Catholic saints and family spirits or loua, have similar attributes (LOC-Voodoo). In 1957, under military supervision, Francois Duvalier was elected leader of Haiti. He created a rural militia named Volunteers for National Security, which was composed of Voodoo specialists or tonton makouts (Federal Research Division, 1989). The culture of Haiti that developed from French and West African roots, highly praised Voodoo specialists for their ability to communicate with spirits and rituals of music and dance. Since Voodoo specialist had good connections with the people, Duvalier was able to assert authority and order through the leaders and Voodoo tradition (Federal Research Division, 1989). Duvalier ruled through terror, corruption, and limited patronage. Haiti made little progress besides a long lasting dictatorship for government. Haitians fled the country seeking freedom from political tyranny leading to the Haitian Diaspora. It is estimated that 1 million people left Haiti between 1957 and 1982, with the majority of them fleeing to America (Federal Research Division, 1989). Francois Duvalier’s son Jean-Claude Duvalier succeeded his father when he died, continuing the tyrant rule.

During the Duvalier reign, Haitians turned to music to speak out against the government. Songs of protest against the Duvalier regime began with the diaspora community, especially New York (Manuel, Bilby, & Largey, 2006). The anti-Duvalier, pro-democracy movement kilti libete, was exemplified by Farah Juste.


Farah Juste

29 Novanm by Farah Juste- "The Voice of those Without"

She is a patriotic singer of Haitian folk and dance music who sang politically motivated songs about the pain and suffering of the lower class in Haiti (Farah Juste in Haiti's Voice, 2011). Manno Charlemagne and Marco Jeanty were the first to sing protest songs and record in Haiti during 1978-1979 (Manuel, Bilby, & Largey, 2006). In 1987, Jean-Claude Duvalier fled the country and the grasp of government over the Voodoo religion disappeared (Manuel, Bilby, & Largey, 2006).

Mizik Rasin movement was created when the people freed the Voodoo religion from Duvalier rule by driving Jean-Claude out (Manuel, Bilby, & Largey, 2006). By combining elements of Voodoo music and Haitian folk with their drums and dancing with rock, reggae, and punk, Mizik Rasin was created. These songs often contained subtle political messages speaking out and criticizing the government. State reactions were strong during this time of government instability of dictators, coups, and elections.


Boukman Eksperyans- Mizik Rasin

"Ke'm Pa Sote" by Boukman Eksperyans - Example of Mizik Rasin

This song is titled “I am not Afraid.” It is sung in traditional Creole and criticizes the military government of General Prosper Avril and was the most popular song at the 1990 Carnival at Port-au-Prince (Marx, 2005).


Richard A. Morse- Founder of RAM- Mizik Rasin

"Fey" by RAM- Example of Mizik Rasin

The presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide was overthrown by a military coup d'etat 1992 (Shacochis, 1999). This song was played that same year at the Carnival in Port-Au-Prince. Although it does not specifically mention the political situation through the Creole lyrics, it gave support to the old presidency of Aristide and was banned under f Raoul Cedras military junta. Richard A. Morse , the leader of RAM (his initials), was subjected to death threats from the regime (Shacochis, 1999). Morse is a Puerto Rican-born Haitian-American musician who plays songs critical of the government.

Contemporary Government of Haiti and its relationship with Music by Kyle Marshall

The 1987 constitution of Haiti created a semi-presidential republic with universal suffrage at the age of 18 and popular election of the President who then appoints the Prime Minister (Federal Research Division, 1989). The Prime minister gets picked from the majority party in the legislature and serves as head of government (Federal Research Division, 1989). Haiti is considered one of the most corrupt countries, even though democracy exists. The protest songs of today consist of Haitian rap. Musicians are no longer targeted by the state for voicing their opinions or singing about the government in their lyrics. When Wycleaf Jean was barred from running in November elections in 2010 from a failure to fulfill residency requirements, he released a song “Pou Kepa,” which protests against the Haiti election commission which made the decision (Lipshutz, 2010).


"Pou Kepa" by Wycleaf Jean


The government did not ban the song or target him as a traitor. Even though Haiti is a corrupt government, its days of music censorship are over. In March of this year, Jean was shot in the hand while he was campaigning for a fellow performer who is running for president (Associated Press, 2011). He did not lay blame on the government for the incident even though it is suspicious. Protest songs have undergone many transformations enduring government oppression. Haiti with its pluralistic party system and attempt at democracy, now allows music to exist without oppression.

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1.Associated Press. (2011, March 20). Wycleaf Jean shot in hand in Haiti. Retrieved April 15, 2011, from New York Post: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/international/wyclef_jean_shot_in_hand_in_haiti_qRDtRTYTa4pHFGkinH88DK
2.Daly, A. (2010). Our Culture. Retrieved March 15, 2011, from Haitisurf: http://www.haitisurf.com/culture.shtml
3.Farah Juste in Haiti's Voice. (2011). Retrieved April 01, 2011, from Farah Juste Reine Soleil: http://www.farahjustesoleil.com/about.html
4.Federal Research Division. (1989). Haiti a Country Study (Vol. 1). (R. A. Haggerty, Ed.) Washington D.C.: Library of Congress.
5.Lipshutz, J. (2010, August 26). Wyclef Releases Song to Protest Haiti Election Ruling. Retrieved March 08, 2011, from Billboard: http://www.billboard.com/news/wyclef-releases-song-to-protest-haiti-election-1004111470.story#/news/wyclef-releases-song-to-protest-haiti-election-1004111470.story
6.Manuel, P., Bilby, K., & Largey, M. (2006). Carribean Currents Carribean Music from Rumba to Reggae. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
7,Marx, Gary (2005). "Lyrics of Love and Haïti". Chicago Tribune. Nov. 8, 2005
8.Shacochis, Bob (1999). The Immaculate Invasion. New York, New York: Penguin Publishing. p. 10.

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