By Scheeler Devis, published January 4, 2000
Scheeler Devis wrote:<p align=justify><b>Nemours Jean Baptiste is credited with being the inventor of konpa, a style of Haitian music. The BBC has described him as Haiti's most influential band leader.
However, the early history of Haitian music begins with the formation of big band orchestra and folklore musicians and/or group which included Jazz Des Jeunes, Septentrional, Atomic, Tana, Titato, Maison Ante, Zobola, Diabolo, SAE orchestra, Orchestre Coronto, Les Etoiles, Ti Paris, Nirvana, Altchery Derival, Tropicana Du Cap Haitien, Lumane Casimir, Yvon Luissain, and Meridionale des Cayes to enumerate just a few. The majority of these bands were interpreting Latin ( Rumba, Meringue and salsa ), French, American, and European music.
The early 1950's gave rise to some of the most talente
d and prominent Haitian musicians in the twenty century.
Early greats included Charles Dessalines, Lucien Noel, Charles Avoine, Leon Atus, Jean Claude Paul, Gary French, Jean Ener Devis, Serge Delaleux, Louis Layence, Anulus Cadet, Mozart Monfort, Richard Duroseau, Destinoble Barateau, Joe Trouillot, Edzer Duroseau, Monfort Jean Baptiste, Raroule Guillaume, Tales, Maz Pierrot, Les Freres Guillard, Eddy Prophete, Deroulo, Yapha, Nenet Domingue, Lominy, Gerard Dupervil, Charles Napoleon, Andre Dorismont, Raymond Gaspard, Candio Despradine, Malary Gay, and of course Webert Sicot and Nemours Jean Baptiste who invented Konpa music.
Konpa Direct, the most popular of Haitian music was originated in 1955 by Nemours Jean Baptiste, a saxophonist (born in 1914) and Weber Sicot, a saxophonist (born in 1934). Nemours and Sicot founded Coronto International on July 26, 1955. The original band members featured Julien Paul, Monfort Jean Baptiste, Anulis Cadet, Mozard Duroseau and Edzer Duroseau.
g before Nemours and Sicot became well known in Haiti, they struggled to find their individual identity. Both musicians had a different vision of what the music should be or sound like . As such, Nemours and Sicot were not able to coexist within the same band. In 1956 Webert Sicot left Coronto to pursuit his own dream. He later founded the the group "Latino". Nemours remained with Coronto International.
The music and reality of the times was reflected in the popular songs sung by the two both groups. Consequently, they attracted different audience. "Coronto" was preferred by the Haitian bourgeois and members of the Duvalier family, particularly Marie Denise Duvalier, daughter of Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier. Jean Claude Duvalier "Baby Doc" openly embraced Weber Sicot's music .
When Nemours and Sicot were part of the same band, they were in direct competition with groups like "Jazz Des Jeunes", a popular Haitian folklore and traditional band in the 50's. And the group Septentrional Du Cap Hai
tien , whcih was founded in 1948, was playing a mixture of Latin and French hits that appealed to a large audience. "Ti Paris and Altchery Dorival", the inventors of Haitian troubadours, were idolized by Haitian peasants of the countryside. As Nemours and Sicot traveled acorss Haiti 's small provinces, they saw the opportunity to unify all Haitian musical styles. Both musicians adapted some of the most popular tunes from the groups and incoprotated into their repertoires.
This was a period of excitement for the Haitian music scene; konpa music, folklore, troubadour, began to be heard on the radio in some part of the country. Nemours Jean Baptiste and Weber Sicot were on the scene and a better position to record their music( on vinyl and/or A track). This period also makered the beginning of ballroom dancing in Haiti.
In 1956 Nemours Jean Baptiste took over as maestro of Coronto. He introduced the electrical guitar, timbale, cowbell, and tom-tom floor to the band. Nemours changed the name of t
he band to "Enssemble Au Calbasse" (and later to "Enssemble Nemours Jean-Baptiste"). Nemour's group featured the talents of Julien Paul, Pierre Blain, Arthur Louvelass, Leconte Vilvaless, Louis Layance, Jean Claude Paul, and Willy La Croix. After dissolution of the group Latino, Webert Sicot -- in an attempt to balance the equation, established his own band called "Enssemble Webert Sicot" with its home-base at "Au Calbasse" nightclub, whereas Nemours' band performed at "Au Calbasse" nightclub. As the Nemours' band popularity grew, they began to travel outside of Port-Au- Prince. In 957 Enssemble Nemours Jean-Baptiste was invited to perform at Palladium in New York City. The tour was a total success for the group. Nemours and his group was said to have memorized the international audience.
After Nemours and his group returned to Port -au-Prince, they now had to face a better and more organized competitor "Enssemble Webert Sicot". As the music spread throughout Haiti, konpa become the root of 20th ce
ntury music. Although Nemours Jean Basptiste and Sicot did not get the recognition or the money they deserved for unknown reasons.
Although the union between Nemours and Sicot did not last long (as members of Coronto international), but the individual members' musical pedigrees and talent ensured that konpa would become the root of Haitian music in the tweenty century.Their fierce competitive nature and creativity contributed significantly to the richness and evolution of konpa music.
As times passed people realized that there was no major difference between Nemours and Sicot musical styles. So, in an attempt to distinguish himself from Nemours, Sicot came up with his own style called "CADENCE RAMPA”. While Sicot’s music was more sophisticated, the Haitian elite were not receptive to the style. Nemours' music was based on improvisation, simple with an easy rhythm flow. As a result, It became easier for student and musicians to follow.
While Sicot and Nemours were fierce rivals as musi
cians, but privately they were best friends. They referred to each other as "Compere", Nemours was in fact the godfather of Sicot's nephew. According to musicians who played with both groups, Nemours and Sicot met regularly to discuss musical strategies. Sicot and Nemours created an interest never seen before in the Haitian music scene, these two individuals with their bands captured the spirit of the entire Nation (Haiti).
In addition to the “band a pied” (street bands), Sicot and his group was the first band to participate in the Carnival in 1967. Nemours followed suit in 1968, and in that same year Haitian music saw the emergence of the “mini Jazz” bands. These bands included Les Fantasies de Carrefour, Les Shleu- Shleu, Les Embassadeurs, Bossa Combo, Les Gypsies, Les Difficiles, Tabou Combo, and Les Freres Dejean.
In 1968, Sicot left Haiti to tour the United States and Europe. Nemours stayed behind to entertain a nation that embraced Konpa with their heart and soul. After leaving Haiti, Si
cot left a void in the musical scene. In 1971, he returned with his first solo album, “Just For You.” However, it was too late for him to recapture a public that religiously fell in love with Konpa. Nemours permanently imposed Konpa as the dominant form of music in Haiti. This was evident based on the fact that most upcoming bands seemed to adapt to Konpa rather than Cadence Rampa. For instance, Les Shleu-Shleu, a very successful band in the 70’s era, followed Nemours’ trend and performed with him on several occasions.
During the 70’s, Nemours and Sicot traveled often to the United States and the Caribbean to expose Konpa to the international community. In the meantime Shleu-Shleu, Bossa Combo, Les Loup Noirs, Tropicana, Septentrional and others bands were making their presence known in Haiti. Due to their absences, Sicot and Nemours became less visible in Haiti and the mini Jazz took over the industry.
Despite their tremendous contributions to Haitian music, Nemours Jean Baptiste and Webert
Sicot never really benefited from the creation of their craft. Both musicians died in poverty. While producers and records companies continue to reproduce and sell their works, nothing is being to preserve their legacy . Nemours Jean Baptiste and Webert Sicot were two musical icons. Their music brought joy to an entire nation.
Sicot and Nemours are to Konpa what Beethoven and Mozart are to classical music. They were the heart and soul of Haitian music across the globe in the 50's, 60's and 70's. They were not just musicians, inventors, entertainers ( in the class of Frank Sinatra, Charles Aznavour, Sammy Davis JR), but were the idol of entire nation.. According to Mario DeVolcy, one of Konpa's most famous drummer, “Sicot and Nemours were the true ambassadors of the Haitian music at home and abroad”.
Haitians across the globe dance to the beat and rhythm of Konpa music, yet the majority of konpa fans do not know the history of the music. Music experts, students, and educat
ors from all over the world have traveled to Haiti to learn and gain more insights about Kompa 's( konpa) roots.
Many renowned international artists have incorporated famous Haitian folklore's and Konpa melodies into their repertoires without giving proper credit to struggling Haitian artists who originally compose or wrote these songs. One such example is the interpretation of the Haitian classic, "Yellow Bird", by Arthur Lyman released under the label MCA Records in 1992. This album sold more than six million copies in the United states along . You can only attribute the mistreatment of Haitian artists by the lack of structures and regulations of the Haitian music industry.
Special thanks to Mario DeVolcy & Adrien Bertho who contributed to this article.
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