Following are my choices as the best releases for 2004. I usually limit this list to ten CDs, but it was way too difficult for me this year to reduce the list to this number. Thus the title :Ten (fifteen) best CDs for 2004. I have 15 CDs this time. Of course, as I always stress, the list is not exclusive and is not a judgment on other CDs which do not appear here.
For the Bicentennial year, 3 excellent CDs were released as a tribute to this unique historical event that was the Independence of Haiti in 1804:
- Happy Birthday Haiti – This CD is a compilation of the music from the wonderful concert on January 3, 2004 at Carnegie Hall in New York. It is a unique blend of historic reciting by actor Danny Glover, artist Erna Letemps, Marguerite La
urent and many other activists, as well as recitation of vibrant poetry and just exquisite music. All the songs on the CD deal with the theme of Haiti. Songs played and replayed by so many other artists, but arranged in such a way that they sound fresh anew. It is amazing to hear what fine arrangements can do to revive old material. The CD was produced by Jean Jean-Pierre, band leader of Kiskeya, the Haitian Orchestra.
- Tradition – This is another gem of a CD by the excellent musician Réginald Policard who never fails to release quality work. Those who are familiar with Policard ‘s style will not be disappointed.As the title indicates, Policard treats a number of Haitian classics and infuses them with his own jazz arrangements. Just excellent work. And you will be happily surprised to also hear the beautiful voice of Ginou Oriol and that of the icon Pierre Blain whose has not missed a beat.
Ayiti yon chans - Produced by Fred Paul, this CD is a poignant and thoughtful appeal to the conscience of all Haitians to take the interest of the country first and to make Haiti regain her place and her stature. The title tune which is also the title of the CD is based of John Lennon's hit “ Give peace a chance”. This is a wonderful CD. [/*:m]
In the Konpa category, I have chosen what I found to be the following excellent CDs.
- Magnum Band – Oulala! Indeed, Oulala! What a nice peace of work. As usual, Dadou pasquet never puts out shoddy work. I just love to hear his voice and is brand of Konpa: krisp brass sound, wonderful arrangements, very nice lyrics, beautiful guitar phrases by Dadou Pasquet, harmonious melodic lines, excellent mixing, an extremely competent cast of musicians. In short, a recipe for excellent music. In my opi
nion, Magnum Band probably has the most recognizable sound in Konpa dirèk these days. Go hear for yourself.
- Zenglen – Nou ka jere ti sa . Zenglen has a decidedly different style, but as enjoyable. As I said before in my Chroniques, Zenglen does a wonderful job of blending traditional Konpa beat with the modern sound. Some of those melodies elicit tremendous feelings and for a Konpa band, the lyrics of the songs are excellent. This is another band which so far, has consistently produced quality work, and if it can prevent any bickering – as it so happens with Haitians bands -, and continue on this path, we should hear a lot more better things in the future from it.
- Nu-Look – Still News. A few weeks ago, I had the immense pleasure to enjoy the music of this band live. It is indeed a very good band and their latest CD shows why. While it is a different
sound from Magnum and Zenglen, it does not cede any ground to these bands. Nu Look has a very mature sound; the arrangements are solid and most important, like the bands above-mentionned, the lyrics of the songs make sense, a trend which I hope will expand further in 2005 to other bands. This CD is guaranteed to make you go to the dance floor from start to finish.
- Dajakout Mizik – Manniguéta. You are talking here about another excellent konpa release. Djakout Mizik and Nu Look are two groups whose style of Konpa , I find, is closest to each other. However, they still have their own style. The most important is that you cannot go wrong with any of these 2 groups: good music, good aggressive konpa, lively sound. Djakout's most recent release, “Manniguéta''went to the roof, and for a good reason. This is excellent Konpa, solid brass work, nice melodies.
- Q-Style Ronald Smith – Sensib pa joué. While in New York, I stumble over this release by Ronald Smith whom many will remember playing with Ska-Sha and many other groups. I was pleasantly surprised. If you are looking for a quiet, peaceful, well-balanced konpa sound, I find that this CD offers just that. One characteristic in the steady beat which gets to you and makes you to want to get up and dance. I do not think you will ever get tired dancing to that sound. The music is set, the melodies are nice and the mixing is very good. The lyrics are not necessarily profound, but they are decent. There is a nice, warm and emotional tribute to the mother called “Manman”. An excellent brass section provides good support to the music. Even if it did not get a lot of airplay, I like this CD.
- Orchestre Tropicana d'Haiti – 40ème Anniversaire (2 volumes). I place this 2-volume CD under this category because that it where it fits best. But
Tropicana should be in a category by itself. This venerable giant from the North has released these excellent 2-volume CD to celebrate its 40th Anniversary. What a piece of work. What is most interesting is the many young generation musicians who participated in this tribute to Tropicana: Gazman Couleur (Nu Look), King Kino (Phantom), Dadou pasquet (Magnum Band) Gracia Delva (Mass Konpa), Sweet Mickey, Stanley Toussaint, Jude Jean , Eric Charles, Tonton Bicha and many more. What a testimony!. The music is excellent, the mixing is superb. This release is a monument to the longevity of Tropicana and to the respect it commands from artists who were not even born when Tropicana was traveling around the world representing Haiti. This is how you pay tribute to artists: while they are alive and not when they pass away. [/*:m]
- Emmeline Michel – Rasin kreyòl. She is my overwhelming choice with her latest release entitled “Rasin kreyòl”. Words are not enough to describe this all-around excellent album. In the words of Emmeline, this is a celebration of Haitian culture and who else could better express it than her. If you do not have this CD in your collection, you are making a disservice to your own self, because “Rasin kreyòl”, in my book, is a masterpiece. Emmeline Michel has become the dignified heiress to Martha Jean-Claude. I can only hope that he example will be followed and that more Haitian female singers will come out of the woods. I know there is more than just Emmeline.
- Sheila Degraff – Africa. I include this CD which I found refreshing and engaging. Sheila Degraff is someone who is not afraid to express her strong religious feelings, yet she does not do it in an overwhelming, oppressing manner. In other words, this is not a religious album. Indeed, she also talks about f
eelings of pride in Haiti, pays tribute to her African roots, talks about the problems in Haitian society and so on. And she is also a formidable composer, all 11 songs on the album having been written and composed by her. To me, that is quite a feat. And what about the variety of rhythms on the album!. That is why I like this CD which you will appreciate the more you listen to it. [/*:m]
I offer two CDs in this category.
- Mozayik – Rhythmic Reflections. And what reflections! Mozayik's long awaited second CD is a wonderful piece of Haitian jazz, roots-based, rhythmic collection of originals (except tunes No. 2 and 6) by this wonderfully balanced group. The wait for this album was worth it after you listen to this CD. The musicians surpassed themselves and I cannot urge you strongly enough to go to your record store if you have not yet bought your
copy. Haitian jazz lovers will be knocked off their feet with this CD. Guaranteed!
- Toto Laraque – Le pas sage (or passage). Ever since he left Haiti, guitarist Toto Laraque has released 4 albums, some better than others. I really like this one. Le pas sage (or passage, I am no sure) is an excellent piece or work featuring among others, Eddy Prophète and Gaguy Depestre on some of the songs. Toto will dazzle you with his dexterity on the guitar, while Eddy does, as usual, an excellent job on Chick Correa's Spain. The title of the CD remains for me an intriguing one, since I am not sure what Toto means, since he might have done it on purpose. Typical Toto![/*:m]
- Michael Benjamin -Mika – . I discovered this CD during one of my musical exploration trips to New York a few mo
nths back. I was really impressed. Michael Benjamin fits squarely in the so-called New generation of musicians, having played with many of the New Generation groups. I did not expect such maturity. He has one previous solo albums which already pointed to that. He is the son of one of my favorite Haitian singers, Lionel Benjamin and comes from a very musical family.
Michael Benjamin's music evokes such nostalgia about the Haiti that he would like to see, a more equalitarian society, a better distribution of the wealth. These are thoughts that you would not expect to hear too often from too many musicians of his style and orientation. The lyrics are extraordinarily meaningful and lyrical. Michael Benjamin shows a lot of versatility in playing konpa, ballad, reggae, American Rap and mixing them up. He does a wonderful job. He also proves to be quite a composer and writer, as he wrote all 16 songs on the album. Whether he writes about love, Haiti, poverty or some personal experience, there is a kind of
emotion and feelings that permeates the song. One song which probably reflects the profound wishes of this young singer is Tune No. 9 “Si m' te gen zèl (Vole)”. The lyrics are simply superb . The thing is that when he sings, it seems that he is talking to you, just like he does when he is referring to the plight of the populations of the slums of Site Soley, Site Katon and so on. I can already imagine how some sectors would ostracize him for his views. His style of play on the guitar is very reflexive, reflecting the sad state of affairs in Haiti. This is a nice CD to own.
- Wyclef Jean – Welcome to Haiti Creole 101. It would be superfluous on my part to try to present Wyclef Jean. He does not need any introduction. Singlehandedly, Wyclef jean has put Haiti on the International map in the most positive way. We needed that. By not hesitating to display his “haitianité”, wherever he may be, Wyclef has instilled tremendous pride among
Haitians and in the process, involved important personalities in his social projects for Haiti. He also has never forgotten his local roots from Croix-des-Bouquets. One wishes that many more wealthy Haitians thought that way of their homeland. That might make a big difference. This is the example Wyclef wants to set. It is thanks to this prestige that he was able to release this CD of Haitian-Rap CD, which in fact, contains more than its share of konpa dirèk. Sweet Mickey, T-Vice, Buju Banton, Foxy Brown, Frères Déjean, Edy Brisseaux etc. Everyone is there in a nice mix. He has tremendous imagination and a special flair in the way to mix things up.
As usual, the lyrics of Wyclef's music reflect some deeply personal feelings about different issues and that is why he can quickly establish communication with his audience. This CD is no exception. Not only does the music carry profound messages, but you can also dance to it without problem. I find the CD Welcome to Haiti Creole 101 an excellent CD that w
e should all listen to. It carries important messages; it makes great dancing and it introduces some non-Haitian artists to Haitian konpa. Who else could to this better than Wyclef Jean? My hats off to his genius.[/*:m]
For Windows on Haiti, 2004