What Is Haitian Music?

By Lisa Basile
Music has evolved greatly since Haiti became a republic.

Music is a vital facet of Haitian culture. In Haiti's special, cultural case, the people's music is an amalgamation of styles. It reflects both African Vodoun music and the sounds of Western and Catholic influence.

African Roots

Haiti's musical roots are cross-cultural.

According to National Geographic World Music, the Republic of Haiti was founded in 1804 after Haitians revolted against slavery. The music took shape in such a way that the drumming, dancing and vocal styles revealed the Haitians' African roots. These roots were deeply embedded in the Vodoun religion.

Vodoun, according to The Mystic, is a religion steeped in the concept of spirit possession. Vodoun uses music in ritual, and this facet is found in Haitian music today.

Western Influence

Jazz became an important part of Haitian culture.

Haitian music became more secular as the country's government rid itself of its voodoo image. Catholicism was growing in Haiti, and so was Western influence. This lead to the playing of blues, jazz and French music in order to please patrons and visitors, according to National Geographic World Music.

The jazz, blues and African drumming and song fused to create Haitian music. In the mid-1940s, according to Heritage Konpa, jazz des jeunes became the most recognized music in Haiti. This dance music was the most popular in the country at the time and is still popular today.

Compas Music

Compas music used brass instruments heavily.

According to Heritage Kompa, in the 1950s Nemours Jean Baptiste and Weber Sicot changed Haitian music. They invented Compas music, which used electric instruments such as the electric guitar. It was lively music, usually accompanied by vocals, and also relied on a horn section.

Compas is also known as "kompa," "kompas," "compas direct" or "konpa direct."

Changes in Konpa Music

Haitian music changed direction and used some synthetic instruments.

Today, Konpa music is still alive. However, it has changed. According to Heritage Konpa, the music places less emphasis on real instruments. The musicians today prefer to use keyboard sounds rather than real drums. Guitars are used, but the horn sections have been replaced by synthetic instruments.

Today's Music

Today, Haitian music is influenced by rap and funk.

According to National Geographic World Music, today's music in Haiti is influenced by the Western world's soul, funk and rap. Konpa is still very much a part of musical culture, though it is often fused with other forms of modern music.

There is no music industry in Haiti, according to Heritage Konpa. There are very few producers and no real record labels.

About the Author

Lisa Basile has been writing for magazines and newspapers since 2003. She has a Master of Fine Arts in writing and has contributed to local news and national magazines such as "Billboard," "Maxim" and "Cosmo!Girl." Basile also edits an online magazine and writes daily content for Alloy Media.