For More Than 50 Years Tabou Combo Has Taken Haitian Konpa Across The World

May 14, 2019
Originally published on May 14, 2019 7:18 pm

Tabou Combo is one of the biggest bands to come out of Haiti. They're celebrating just over 50 years of being what they call the “ambassadors of konpa.”

They've taken their infectious blend of Haitian rhythms to the U.S. Africa Europe and throughout the Caribbean and Latin America.

And there's a good chance if you grew up in a Haitian household, Tabou Combo was always in rotation.

Yvon Andre, better known as Kapi, is one of the founding members of the band. He spoke to WLRN’s Nadege Green.

Green: First let me say felisitasyon Kapi. 50 years is no easy feat.

Kapi: Thank you. Thank you.

The band got its start in Petionvville, Haiti in the late 60s. Tell me about how you all came together.

Well, the idea came from Albert Chansy and Herman Nau, who were friends and they went to school together. At the Lycee Petionville Herman went into trumpet playing and it was their love for music that prompted them to get into a band

Albert and I, we used to be classmates at the Lycee Petionville. And one day he saw me playing with the Diplomat de Petionville, who were much older than us.

I was playing percussions on a Sunday morning.

When he saw me playing with the Diplomat, he thought I was an accomplished musician and early Monday, you know when we got to class, he said, “Well Kapi you know you have to play with us.”

And that was my first entrance to the band and I was 16 years old

What were those rehearsals like, getting together forming a band…What were those early days like?

We had to borrow instruments. You know, kole pesye, means, you know, we’re hustling to get the proper equipment to rehearse. Early days were not easy.

As a matter of fact, the first time I was playing with Tabou my father came to the bal and said, “Well in my family we don't have musicians.” He took me away.

He took you off stage?

Yeah,yeah.

Some of the band members later moved to New York and Tabou Combo reunited there. How did being in America influence the Tabou Combo sound?

When I was living in New York, back in the 1970s, every time James Brown was in town it was like a must for us to go see James Brown, the Commodores...we saw Earth Wind and Fire.  So what we did [was] we incorporated funk into the music.

And when you talk about funk, I definitely hear that in "Et Alors."

Yes, the beginning of "Et Alors" is pure funk

You blend different genres in your music, but also different languages. Talk a little bit more about that because you have hits not just in Creole.

We try to incorporate English, Spanish, Portuguese and Creole of course. We are, you know, huge in Panama.

Panama Querida…is like a national anthem there. We figured, you know, by incorporating many languages many doors will be open for us.

You really are trailblazers. I don't think there is a Haitian konpa band or Haitian musician who does not point to Tabou Combo as one of the legendary bands that set that roadmap. How do you see your legacy in another 50 years?

Well, we are preparing some youngsters to take over when we eventually step away. And so the legacy will continue.

 

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