From Ricky Ricardo to the Buena Vista Social Club, Cuban music has always seemed to find big audiences here in the U.S.; for lots of people, it’s become the sound of the Caribbean. A new compilation hopes to expand our horizons a bit by introducing the sounds that came out of Haiti, before and during the Duvalier regimes. It’s called Haiti Direct: Big Band, Mini Jazz & Twoubadou Sounds, 1960-1978.
“The Haitian sound was something that was extremely important across the Caribbean at the time, but has been ignored for whatever reason,” says archivist Hugo Mendez, who produced the collection. “It’s been difficult to get your hands on, so the idea behind the compilation was to represent music that has been very important for many people, but has not been available, say, in America or in Europe.”
Mendez unearthed 28 lost recordings. In the process, he got to know some of the people who played this music, many of whom had to flee the country to avoid the abuses of Francois “Papa Doc” and Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier. One of those musicians, José Tavernier of the band Ibo Combo, joined Mendez and NPR’s Kelly McEvers to talk about how these volatile years shaped Haiti’s musical profile.