Nemours Jean Baptiste, father of Konpa Direk

If Nemours Jean Baptiste could use his musical ingenuity to create and leave behind for us Haitians something as precious and valuable as Konpa Direk, this musical genre we all love so much, there is no reason as to why we should not develop and expand its portfolio.

The history of the evolution of Konpa Direk, the Haitian people’s most popular musical genre, is yet to be documented; it is still in its oral state.

After over 50 years of the creation of the music, there is not much one can find out there in terms of written historical facts on its origin and evolution.

There are no scholarly written documents or books one can put their hands on to satiate their crave for knowledge about Konpa Direk. We only have a few guys here and there, Mario Devolcy is one of them, showing off their knowledge whenever someone cares enough to interview them. This is not the way it should be.

If we dream to see our music going somewhere in the future, we need to start building the library of Konpa Direk. And the most effective way to do so is by documenting the facts about the music, which we are not doing effectively as of yet.

The history of our Konpa Direk, as I stated above, unfortunately, is still in its oral state. Nothing is being documented, and that is after half of a century of its birth. What are we waiting for to make it happen? Are we waiting for the “Blancs” to come do it for us as they did for our history as a people? We know already all the lies they have reported about our history, so the idea of having them write for us the history of our Konpa would be foolish to say the least.

If I am to research on the history of Konpa Direk, and I decide to go to my city library or my university library to collect books on the music -to enable me to document my work -would I find anything to ease the burden and facilitate my work? I strongly doubt it. Yet, you bet if I am to research on the history and evolution of Jazz, Rock and Roll, Blues, R&B or Rap, I will find an array of written documents. If I refuse to give in to the obvious lack of available documents and decide to break all the barriers and move forward with the research, I will have to interview a guy like Mario Devolcy, whom I consider as a Konpa oral historian, and have him empty his brain to me until he passes out.    

Nothing took place if it was not documented. We need to keep that in mind. It is not too late to reengage and move the history of our music forward, meaning from its oral to literary state for the generations to come to have a foundation they can be proud to build on.

I would not mind volunteering my service in whatever capacity for the realization of such project, and I am certain others would be delighted to take part in it. After over 50 years of the existence of Konpa Direk, it is despicable to still have its history in its oral state. We need to be publishing the facts about the music –from its inception to what it has become today. So I am thinking of a way we can make that happen. I see someone like Mario Devolcy as a living resource. We can work with him to help us to make the idea of publishing the books on the history of Konpa Direk become a matter of reality. Are we waiting for him to expire before we can start working on that? I hope not as such effort is long overdue.


Saida: former backup singer of Hangout

For those of you who may not know, Konpa Direk is Haiti’s most popular genre of music. It is the legacy of two great Haitian musicians –Weber Sicot and Nemours Jean Baptiste. This is the music the majority of the Haitian people play at social gatherings (parties) and blast in their cars. When these two men created Konpa, however, I am not sure they had women in mind. So the question is, after a little over fifty years since the creation of Konpa Direk, is there a future for women in this music business?

Konpa is yet to be a comfort zone for women. It is a male-dominated world with only a few women struggling, despite all the humiliations they are being victim of, to gain some degree of recognition. From Cleo, Georgie, Mei Mei and Saida of Hangout to Sandra of Zin and Stacey of Tempo, the women have not been given the respect they deserve. For the most part, they are being “sexploited,” sexually harassed and/or treated as second class artists.

I’ve heard many people making the argument that if you dream of having a long-lasting band, keep the women away; the moment they integrate the band, trouble will surface. The men will be competing against each other to see who will be the first to knock her out or sleep with her. And once you have band members competing against each other over matters that have nothing to do with music, unity and esprit de corps, essential elements for the band’s success, will be greatly impacted. That alone will suffice to place the band on the verge of disorganization, chaos and destruction.

If the aforementioned reality really exists inside the Konpa bands, I think management is slacking in its duty. The job of the manager of the band, if I may, is to set the guidelines as to what behaviors are appropriate and what are not. In other words, the job of the manager is to come up with policies that would praise good deeds and punish misconduct. When you have mediocre folks that don’t know what they are doing managing these bands, of course, you can expect the women to be treated like pieces of meat for all the men to prey on.

Is there a future for women in this business? I am very hopeful that things will change for the better for women. But that won’t happen until management can step up to the plate and lead these bands with an impeccable level of professionalism. I am also hopeful that things will get better for these women when they (the women) start realizing that favoritism can only take them this far. Should they integrate these bands, the decision should be made on the basis of talents and merit, not favoritism. If it is based on favoritism or solely on their good looks, they will have to sell their dignity by making hideous concessions only to secure their positions.