Following a successful slave revolt that ended in the early 19th century, Haiti became history’s first black republic. It’s no surprise then the Haitian culture that subsequently emerged had a distinct and uncensored African foundation. Drumming, dancing and song were central to the practice of the syncretic vodoun religion, which co-exists alongside Catholicism allover Haiti.
As Haitian music became more secularized, folkloric styles like twobadou (or troubadour), an intimate sound along the lines of American blues or Cuban son, grew in popularity. Throughout the 20th century, such genres as American jazz and African highlife began to be incorporated into Haitian music as bands grew bigger in size and musical patrons more discerning. The 1930s and ’40s saw the Haitian government attempting to marginalize vodou practices as part of an “antisuperstition” campaign, but this only led to Haitians determined to celebrate their roots being more resolute in doing so. It eventually became clear that no matter how modern Haitian culture would become, a clear and present African underpinning would remain.