About 7 years ago, I invited "Haitiando"
vocalist, Boulo Valcourt, to play guitar with an Afro-Cuban band at a club
in Manhattan. His improvised
solo was so good that after a choral break they invited him to solo again.
It was then that we spoke of doing someday a project called "Haitiando".
Since it was to be simultaneously Haitian and Afro-Cuban, it would
therefore be very different from the salsa sound of New York, in whose
performance, the band is little more than background for the singer and the
spaces for improvisation and groove essential to African-Based dance music
are taken out.
A few weeks ago I called Fred Paul to review his "Compas
2000" CD featuring the soft and raspy voice of Boulo on an African-Compas
track. He then told me about
his nearly completed "Haitian-tinged" Cuban album, in Kreyol, with
lots of solos (sometimes two on the same track), by riffing 'charanga'
violins, guitars, tres, piano, trumpets and congas; the sweet 'son' or
Oriente Cuba, and vocals by Boulo Valcourt.
All it needed was a name.
Haiti and Cuba had a long and little known
history of musical collaboration. Two
historical periods stand out and make up the essence of "Haitiando"
In the 1790's some French and Haitian musicians running from Haiti's war of
independence left Saint-Domingue to find refuge a few miles west of Cuba in
Oriente. They brought with them
the "Contredanse", and the "Charanga-Fancese", a
classical ensemble of flute, violins and timpani percussion. In the about 130 years it took to develop the modern Charnga,
the kettle drums were replaced by the Afro-Cuban rhythm section, and the 'Contredanse'
flowed into the 'Danzon'. Thanks
to legendary musicians like Antonio Romeau and flutist "Arcano y sus
Maravillas" a charnga band that included the Lopez brothers that
included the Lopez brothers: Orestes on Cello, and the living legend "Cachao"
on bass, "Haitiando" was born.
They kept the classical paseo introduction, and the slid into
improvised "tail" of mambo, cha-cha, and son-montuno, Cuba's
sensous marriage of Spain and Africa.
In the 1920's Haitian migrant workers went to
Oriente to cut sugar cane, and this time they brought something back: the
guitars, maracas, claves, bongos and the sweet 'son' of artist like: Miguel
Matamoros, Los Compadres, Compay Segundo and Cheo Marguetti.
Haitian musician like "Etolies du Soir" and "Coupè-Clouè"
used it to create their 'son' drenched compas hybrids, and country 'siwel'
Throughout the years, and especially with the advent of
radio, Haitian musicians have kept an ear on Cuban music.
From their 'Contredanse", edged of Danzons like "Almendra",
by big bands like septentrionnal and Jazz des Jeunes, to original Afro-Cuban
tracks by groups like Frères Déjean and Los Diplomaticos de Haiti, the
music of Cuba is no stranger to Haiti.
"Haitiando" is the sum of all this and
more. In one CD you get the
riffing violin and flute-Charanga swing, and the sensuous guitar driven
'son' of Oriente. You can hear
the influences of charangas like "Orq. Aragon" and "America
del 55", and the guitar and trumpet laden "Septeto Nacional"
and "Septeto Habanero", In short, it's a true look at Haiti's long
and ongoing experiences with Cuban music.
"Haitiando" keeps the "tipico-sabor', and gives us a
Haitian flavored taste of the music that enchanted people like Coupè-Clouè.
This is music for the ear, imagination and soul, built from the dance
Aside from Boulo's soul-full and plaintive
vocals, "Haitiando" Features some of the best Latino musicians to
be found in Miami: Guitarist Juanito Marquez, flutist Rene Lorente (Orquesta
Aragon), and Haitian pianist/arranger Eddie Prophete of Montreal.
Across-the board menu of slick bolero and
cha-cha, a riffing charanga 'groove'; and son-montuno, is the work of
producer Fred Paul. His secret
is to start arranging as soon as he has the right vocalist in mind for the
project and then ask him whether he would want to participate.
Of course Boulo said Yes! As did all the other talented musicians on
By Al Angeloro.