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The Origin of Haitian Troubadour

A Haitian American woman, whose name I unfortunately don’t know, has published a video on social media in which she talked about the origin of what is called “Haitian Troubadour.” This interesting video was also shared by Evens René, a member of my WhatsApp group, OPINION—A group named after my weekly radio segment that is aired during “Bonjour Haïti," hosted by Elizabeth Guerin on Radio Mega in Miami. My friend, Nick Joseph instantly reacted and asked, “Aucune objection?”--(Is there no objection?). Nick’s post has immediately captured my attention. Thus, I decided to watch the video, in which I noticed some discrepancies in the shared information.

To help elucidate some obscure points pertaining to the origin of the “Haitian Troubadour,” I referred to an authority when it comes to Haitian music, my friend Louis Carl Saint Jean. As a respected personality in the domain, Louis Carl is without question, one of the rarest intellectuals that I know of who can clarify and certify any information with regards to Haitian music, including Haitian Troubadour.

Furthermore, I think that it is the role of the intellectual to divulge and share his/her knowledge and wisdom on societal, political, and cultural matters whenever necessary. On that note, I invite you to read the elaborated, rich, and informative response of Mr. Louis Carl Saint Jean.

Note: The author may be contacted via email:


Georges my friend, some compatriots often make it difficult for those who want, in good faith and without pretension, set the record straight when certain mistakes are made in the field of Haitian music.

Yes, I heard this amazing sister explain the origin of what is called, if you will, the "Haitian troubadour." I don't know if the narration is her own, but in any case, she has charisma. She delivers her information wonderfully. She deserves everyone's support, as does anyone who is advancing the cause of Haitian culture.

The definition she gave to the word (Troubadour) is correct. We have all studied it since the seventh grade in social sciences classes. We all know the difference between “a troubadour and a trouvère.” I'm not going to dwell on that. Let's move on.

However Georges, she has mistaken the origin of the "Haitian Troubadour." She placed that back, I believe, to the beginning of the 20th century by the Haitian workers who had gone to Cuba. In that context, she is inaccurate. However, she is partly right and I'll explain.

Let us specify that it was in 1919 (not at the beginning of the 20th century) that our brothers had begun to immigrate to Cuba, in particular to Santiago, as workers. It was under the government of President Sudre Dartiguenave. The latter had even encouraged this exodus of our brothers that was set up by the company "Central United Fruit".

This is where she is totally incorrect.

The reality is that there have been troubadours since the foundation of the country. Most of our first known poets, those of “l'Ecole des pionniers” were famous troubadours. I can cite for example, Juste Chanlatte, Jules Solime Milscent, François Romain Lhérisson, etc. They composed songs to glorify heads of state, including Dessalines and Christophe. Dessalines had a particular troubadour in Les Cayes, Southern Haiti. His name escapes me for the moment. One of the greatest Haitian troubadours, from 1816 to 1830 was the poet and singer from Les Cays named Francois Romain Lhérisson. He started to sing at a very young age.

In 1872, the troubadour and singer Jean Boisette had electrified the country with his composition "Malfini," as he had called Captain Batsch--A German Captain who defecated on the Haitian flag. In fact he sang: "Bismarck ak Batsch se deux malfini." Around the same time, there was also another well-known troubadour in the capital named La Violette. This one died almost at the beginning of the presidency of Nord Alexis.

Speaking of Nord Alexis, we cannot forget the troubadour Nicolas who sang forcefully and loudly when the opposition forces launched political attacks against the old president, "Cécé te dit : general Nord granmounn nan tout kò li / Cécé te di : La kite pouvwa a lè li vle / Ay Cécé te di…" (Cécé was Celestina Pierrot, daughter of President Louis Pierrot, niece of Henri Christophe and wife of Nord Alexis).

In fact, at the founding of our nation, three categories of people made music (i.e., he military, the upper class, and the lower class). It was in the last category that our troubadours belonged precisely.

At first, the violin was their favourite instrument. Let's not forget that, in the time of the colony, there were so-called "talented" Negroes. Among them were violinists. Until about 1972 - 1973, in "bal fandang," "bal anba tonèl" in Fond-des-Nègres, the birthplace of my maternal parents, there were troubadours who played the violin.

From the middle of the 19th century, the violin was replaced by the banjo. Around the decades 1900 – 1910, there were banjo players in all the districts of the Republic, in particular in “La République de Port-au-Prince”.

Almost at the same time, the soprano had become the second instrument to the banjo. Who can forget Aristobule, the great soprano player from Cap-Haïtien?

Anténor Firmin also had troubadours he adored. The best known of them was the Gonaïvien Gros Sylvestre. In 1902, the latter went into exile in Saint Thomas with Firmin.

I now come to the part where our sister is right.

From 1919 (therefore, not at the beginning of the 20th century), Haitian workers began to massively immigrate to Cuba. They would begin to return to Haiti around 1930 – 1940. On average, they spent between 10 and 20 years in Cuba. They were called "Viejo." They had left the country between the ages of 30 and 40. So when they came back, they were between 40 and 60 years old. (We have a few Haitian musicians who were born in Cuba around this time. Examples: Kesnel Hall, Louis Lahens, etc. Among those who worked there, I am thinking of Antoine Radule, Cévelhomme Azor, etc.)

Upon their return, around 1930 – 1940, those who were musicians had indeed begun to play in the style of the Cuban troubadour. One of the best-known troubadours of that bunch was Antoine Radule. (No one is too sure of his real surname. Some say Radule, others Radil, or Radyl). In any case, among his best-known songs, I can mention "Sharpshooter, Carmen, Désaccord, etc. (The latter was performed by Le Jazz des Jeunes. See the "25th anniversary" disc of Le Jazz des Jeunes. We almost all know "Sharpshooter" popularized around 1948-1949 by the Issa El Saieh Orchestra with Joe Trouillot).

The troubadours swarmed through the (then) five departments of the country. In the south, the best known was undoubtedly Robert Molin. In Jacmel, there were: Rémy Neptune (killed unnecessarily in 1964 - 1965 in Sainte Helene by the Tontons Macoutes), Souriac Paris (the father of Ti Paris. He was called "Gros Paris"), Rudolphe Lamarque, etc. In Cap-Haïtien, we found Mimi, Aristobule. Later Manno Toussaint, Cirius "Youyou" Henri (from Port Margot or Limbé), etc. We can’t even count the numbers of troubadours of Raboteau, let alone the whole city of Gonaives.

It was when our brothers/compatriots returned, around 1930, that guitars became one of the predominant instruments in groups of troubadours, most often the "trios." It is worth noting that even when a group had four or five musicians, it was called "Trio." For instance, they may refer to a group as "trio so and so," after the name of its founder.

The “Cuban tres” will be one of the favorite instruments of our troubadours who had returned from Cuba. For example, Antoine Radule was an excellent tres player. He had learned to play this instrument in Santiago.

Around 1930 – 1940, all the districts of Port-au-Prince had groups of troubadours, hence, they were called "Trio." There were, for instance, "Trio Annulysse Cadet," "Trio Orphea," "Trio de Port-au-Prince," "Trio Kiskeya," etc. These trios, precisely, imitated the Cuban trios, in particular the Trio Matamoros. In the 1940s, Trio La Rosa was really loved throughout the country.

In Port-au-Prince, the one who was really going to encourage these trios was Ricardo Widmaier. He had even financed trios who came to play at his radio station HH3W. There were "Trio HH3W" with the Legros brothers (Dòdòf and Alexandre) and Dormelas Philippe. Very often, Jean Legros also performed with this trio. To repeat the pianist Félix "Féfé" Guignard, "Ricardo Widmaier did indeed help these trios just as these trios also helped him, because they had given a wider audience to his radio station."

Among the most famous troubadours of Port-au-Prince, in the years 1940 - 1950, I can name: Antoine Radule, Annulysse Cadet, Joseph "Kayou" Franck, Murat Pierre, Nemours Jean-Baptiste, Rodolphe "Dòdòf" Legros , Jean Legros, Achille Souriac Paris (known as "Ti Paris"), Max Antoine (known as Marc Elie), Gérard Hilton, Luc Desroches, Raymond Gaspard, etc. (There are too many of them—of course, I can't name them all.)

By the way, it is wrong to think that “troubadour style” is synonymous with “troubadour genre.” I take issue with that because there is no such thing. Troubadours, as we all know, do not use sophisticated instruments as do the musicians of modern dance groups. Our troubadours mainly used instruments such as: The banjo, the tré, the guitar, the manouba (or manibula), the "ti bwa," etc. In the 1960s – 1970s, they also used the "tambour marengwen."

Anyway, I think the video was very useful.

M’ale Georges. Na pale pita,


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