Following the tradition started in 2000, the time has come for me to submit my choices for the ten best Haitian CDs for 2008. As usual, I reiterate that these are my own personal choices. I do not pretend to have covered all the CDs that were released in 2008 and I am not passing any judgment on other CDs that are not featured here.
2008 has definitely been a year dominated by Konpa dirèk. Indeed, quite a few new groups have appeared on the scene and they sound pretty good, I might say. My choices this year will also reflect this dominance. Things were very quiet this year in the category of Roots music (Mizik Rasin). As far as I know, only Eddy François, formerly of Boukman Eksperyans, recently released a CD which I have not been able to acquire yet. That is why it is not featured in the Chronique.
In the Konpa dirèk category
Harmonik – Jere m: The group may be new, but the musicians are veterans. It is lead by the excellent composer, arranger, keyboardist Nickenson Prud'homme who is supported by musicians such Dener Séide, Élie Lapointe, omnipresent drummer Shedley Abraham and many others. The music is highly entertaining, the lyrics are nice, the mixing is excellent. An all-around super CD which is highly recommended.
Mizik Mizik – Paradi nan lanfè: After a long hiatus, Mizik Mizik is back with a bang. Everyone should remember the CD “Blackout” from a few years back, in which Fabrice Rouzier introduced the twoubadou beat, and then the Haiti Twoubadou series. Fabrice Rouzier and his group are a creative bunch and it shows on this album. The music is well structured, the arrangements are creative and the rhythm is right on cue. The mixing is excellent and, so are the lyrics. A must in your Mizik Mizik collection.
Christmas with the Stars – Bèl Kado Nwèl: Finally a new, authentic Haitian Christmas CD. Featured are some of the biggest Haitian Stars of two generations: Boulot Valcourt and his son, Lionel Benjamin and his son, Armstrong Jeune, Jude jean Isnard Douby, Stanley George, Stéphanie Séjour, better known as Tifane, Ritchie and many more. This is a wonderful collaboration and the music reflects that. The lyrics are very thoughtful, poignant even, as they describe a Christmas that is out of reach for a great majority of Haitians, particularly the kids who cannot enjoy this event, given the dire situation in our country. Despite this however, there is still hope. This is a well-conceived album.
Graciamania – Chanpay la: Gracia Delva is an artist who does not need any introduction. On this album, he joins forces with great composer, arranger Serge Descard who wrote, composed and arranged the music. This is a great collaboration. Serge Descard is a very disciplined composer and arranger and his music reflects faithfully his style. His two previous CDs, Compalogie I and II are two excellent CDs and this one is a great addition to the collection.
Chalè Mizik – La chatte de Mme Bruno : This is another kid on the block, and a good one too. As in other cases, the band may be new, but it is comprised of veterans. The well-known Bono is the maestro and lead vocal. I like his style. He is supported by an impressive array of musicians and guests, among them guitarists Toto Laraque, Makarios Césaire, drummer Shedley Abraham, Ritchie, conga player Sergio Decius, Cassandra Jean and many more. The beat is nice and the music is entertaining, even though I find that the mixing is not as good as in the above CDs. You will enjoy the play of guitarists Toto Laraque and Makarios Césaire. A good addition to your collection.
Elite Mizik – Happy 60 Septen: Still another new group on the block. The highlight on this CD is a tune dedicated to the 60 years of existence of the Great Orchestre Septentrionale. This is a vibrant tribute to the Giant of the North. I am not sure how well this song is known, but it is quite nice. Elite Mizik may be new, but the music is mature, well balanced and quite entertaining. As is the case on other CDs, many guests artists are featured, such as Shedley Abraham (of course), Louimane Absolu, Bono Bernard, Sergo Decius, King Kino and many more. The mixing is very good and the music is tight. A good addition to your collection.
Bèljazz – Van vire : This new and entertaining group is comprised of some veterans of the music and a host of guests: Ederse Stanis, Ralph Menelas, Shedley Abraham (of course again), Ritchie, Alix Nozile and others. The music is happy and well balanced; at the same time that the lyrics are meaningful and well written. The album contains some memorable melodies that are enhanced by an excellent cast of musicians. I recommend it for your collection.
In the ballad category,
Bélo – Référence. Not every CD released last year belongs to the konpa category, though. The great singer and messenger Bélo released his second album entitled “Référence”. While his first CD had a clear penchant for Reggae, on this one, it is much more difficult to classify him. Indeed, his repertoire is quite diversified. The arrangements on this CD are superb and Bélo is supported by a formidable cast of musicians. A real treat!
José Tavernier – Meli-Melo. This CD is a pleasant trip down memory lane. Many of us will remember the singing conga player José Tavernier and the famous groups Ibo Lele and Ibo Combo. That was the good old times of fun and excellent music. On this CD, many of these melodies were written by those great musicians named Herbie Widmaier, Boulot Valcourt, Michel Desgrottes , Hansy Dérose, to name but a few. For this CD, José Tavernier surrounded himself with an excellent group of musicians and the result is some beautiful arrangements. Part of the sale of this CD will go to a foundation in Haiti that deals with the care of at least 1000 children. That is a double reason why you should rush and get your copy.
Félix Guignard – Aubade. Pianist Félix Guignard is a legendary figure among older Haitians. Unfortunately, too many young musicians have never heard of him, yet he is an icon. As you listen to this CD, it is obvious that Félix Guignard has not lost a beat. He still plays beautifully and has kept young and fresh. If you want to listen to some exquisite piano playing, this CD is one that should be featured in your collection.
In the History category
Istwa Peyi Dayiti – Vol.13- The François Duvalier period. I have included this CD because of the valuable historical information it contains. Since these events are much closer to us, they become more relevant and in that respect, I found Vol. 13 of the series launched by Professor Jean Julien extremely interesting. Obviously, Prof. Julien has done his homework and we learn so many tidbits of information. This is a CD that each one of us should listen to. There are a lot of lessons to be learned and I cannot wait for Vol. 14.
Serge Bellegarde, for Windows on Haiti, December 2008.
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