On Sept. 1, the legendary Haitian group Tabou Combo took their classic compas to the stage at the Lincoln Center Atrium. Excerpts from that show are featured in our program Afropop Live! 2016. Producer Morgan Greenstreet sat down with the band manager, composer and second singer Yves Joseph, known as "Fan Fan." Morgan brought with him a vinyl record, entitled New York City, released in 1975. Fan Fan was delighted to see it:
Morgan Greenstreet: I wanted to ask you about this record New York City.
Yves "Fan Fan" Joseph : Yes, this is our first number one hit! [Laughs] in 1974! Oh my God!
Tell me about how it was recorded.
This album was recorded live in a studio on Broadway, it was on Broadway and 52nd St., called Broadway Recording. I’m saying it was recorded live, because at time, you couldn't play any way but live, 'cause you had to play an instrument; there were no sequencers, there were no computers and stuff like that. So everybody had to get to the studio and start playing music.
I remember it was recorded on a Sunday morning, like 6 o’clock in the morning, it was after a gig, and everyone got in a car and went to the studio and we start recording this record. [Laughs]
But, the way they marketed it, it was as if it were recorded live at the carnival in Brooklyn. But this picture, this is Eastern Parkway, right?
This is Eastern Parkway, it’s like the first time we played in Eastern Parkway, there was a bunch of people.
Was that part of carnival itself?
It was Labor Day! Yeah, it was Labor Day, the same thing that’s coming up on Monday.
So what was carnival like then?
It was a lot of people, a lot more Haitians. I haven’t been there for quite a while, but I understand it’s very organized, security is very tight, at that time it was just like a big party, you know, everybody was in the street and there were not a lot of cops.
That seems to have changed.
You feel like there used to be more Haitians there... do you feel like the carnival is still for Haitians now?
No, although we probably have more Haitians in New York than back then, Haitians at that time were more involved in Haitian music; I think music was the only thing they had. There was no Internet, Facebook, Twitter, so everybody was into music, and TV was not really part of…there was nothing really going on TV.
Everybody was looking for the culture. It was 1974. That’s the time when the first wave of Haitians started to leave Haiti and come to the United States, everybody was nostalgic for Haiti, so that’s why they gathered.
Everybody had a chance to see one another, “Oh, I haven’t seen you in a long time!” You see your friend, you see your cousin, you didn’t even know they were in the United States. So that was that time.
So you’ve been here, you’ve been based in Brooklyn since then.
Can you reflect on how the music scene, especially for Haitian music, has changed since then?
Drastically. There were less bands; now everybody plays music, because of the computer age, even people who are not musicians, they play music now. They sit home, sit in their basement and work on the computer and come out with a song. At that time, everybody had to be a musician. So, to be a musician, you had to work hard, you had to work on your trade, you had to work on your instrument, you had to go school, you know? But now, everybody can play music, so you have a proliferation of Haitian bands, which is not bad, but I feel that, you know, musicians should play music, not computer programmers. [Laughs]
I understand. So especially with a band like Tabou Combo, you have such a long legacy, there’s so much music. I'd like for you to pick four tracks from anywhere across the whole history of the group and tell us a little bit about each:
- So definitely “New York City” should be one of the tracks that I should pick!
“New York City” was our first major hit, and that gave us, that propelled us into the international scene.
What is the song about? It puts us in the city…
Nostalgia! It says, “We’re here in the United States, you know, we just go there, we think about Haiti, every night when we sleep, we think about what a change it is from New York City to Haiti. New York City it’s like you have to go to work every day, no time to rest, and...I can’t wait to go back to Haiti.” That’s what "New York City" is all about.
O.K., and yet you didn’t go back, you’re here!
[Laughs] We still here, and we love it! I mean, we got used to it; you gotta get used to it.
"Mabouya" is a song that has been played by, covered by Carlos Santana on his album Shaman. And every time Carlos Santana plays, he plays "Mabouya."
[Santana calls the song "Foo Foo" for some reason].
3) “Baissez Bas.” That’s one of the major hits in the Caribbean Islands.
4) “Aux Antilles.” That’s another good song. All these songs are major hits, they remind us of, they put us in a different scene, they put us in a different era.
Nice! So what are you up to now? I see the band has been pretty busy.
We’re preparing our 50th anniversary. August 24 was our 40th anniversary and we didn’t celebrate because we’re waiting to do a big bash for our 50th. We wanted to make it to 50 and I hope we do. Whatever comes after, you know, comes after. But we just wanted to reach the 50th anniversary as a turning point in our career, or in Haitian music, because I don't think any other band in the Haitian music scene has lasted 50 years with all the original members. That’s a plus.
Thank you very much and God bless.
For more deep background on Tabou Combo and the roots of Haitian music, see the Best of The Beat on Afropop features listed below: