The music of Haiti is influenced most greatly by French colonial ties and African immigration (through slavery), as well as by its neighbor, the Dominican Republic (see music of the Dominican Republic).

Impoverished Haiti didn't have any recorded music until 1937 (see 1937 in music) when Jazz Guignard was recorded noncommercially.


The religion of most Haitians is vodou (voodoo) and highly formalized percussion is used in spiritual music. Vodou includes two different kinds of deities (Lwa): rada and petwo. Ceremonies may include either Rada drums ("Tanbou Rada" in Haitian Creole) with cowhide covers attached with wooden pegs, or Petwo drums (Tanbou Petwo), which have a goatskin covers attached with cords and a more aggressive sound. Additionally there are many many Haitian rhythms played in Vodou which vary greatly with geography. For example, some of the most popular Rada rhythms from Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas include yanvalou, mayi, zepol and dawomen, while in Gonaives, Rada takes such names as wanjale, akbadja, and kavalye hounto.

In the Petwo family one can find: petwo makaya, fran petwo, petwo doki, makandal, bumba and kita.

There are many other Vodou rhythms, including djoumba, kongo, ibo, tchika, raboday, banda, nago, maskawon.

Ra-ra music was traditionally played during the Carnival celebrations and was an integral part of native voodoo relious beliefs. At parades, persons possessed by the Gedes (a type of loa, or god) chastizes bystanders in extremely offensive terms. Musicians like Boukman Eksperyans, Boukan Ginen and Manno Charlemagne incorporated reggae, rock and funk rhythms, continuing in spite of governmental pressure during the 1990s.

20th century

Compas is a complex, ever-changing music that arose from European ballroom dancing, mixed with Haiti's Creole culture. It is a refined music, played with an underpinning of méringue (related to Dominican merengue) as a basic rhythm. Much of early Haitian music consisted of Wesern dances with Africanized versions of the accompanying music. Some of these forms are still extant, including menwat, a variation of the minuet. In the early 20th century, compas was influenced by multiple genres, including calypso, salsa, soca and soukous. Beginning in 1915, American occupation brought swing and big band music, and native musics incorporated the swinging style of the American musicians. Among the artists ro rise to prominence was the group Les Jazz de Jeunes.

Compas direct was invented in the mid-1950s by a group of artists, already then famous, called Coronto International; it soon became popular throughout the Antilles, especially in Martinique and Guadeloupe, where it evolved into zouk. Webert Sicot and Nemours Jean Baptiste became the two major powers in the group. Sicot left and formed a new group and an intense rivalry developed between the two, though they remained good friends. Nemours played a popular, improvised, mambo-influenced style called compas direct, while Sicot's sophisticated, Cuban-influenced "cadence rampa" was inaccessible to mainstream listeners.

As cadence rampa became more and more experimental, and compas direct incorporated more effective pop structures, American- and French-style pop spawned minijazz bands that became perhaps the first fully Haitian form of pure pop. Ibo Combo, Les Fantasistes de Carrefour, Shleu Shleu, Les Freres de Jean, Los Incognitos de Petionville and others remain influential and popular artists.

In the early 1970s, Los Incognitos de Petionville became Tabou Combo, whose 1969 Haiti incorporated major influences from American funk and began a swift rise to international stardom for the band and the Haitian music scene. By 1984, Tabou Combo had become chart-toppers in Paris and elsewhere across the globe. The mid-1980s saw the blockbuster success of zouk, which soon traded influences with all the greatest of Caribbean genres, including merengue, calypso, salsa and compas.

The zouk wave was followed by an influx of Haitian artists like System Band, Zin, Top Vice and Karess incorporated rock and roll, hip hop and jazz into compas, and experimented with new lyrical content, such as feminism. Haitian rapping was a major part of the country's musical scene by the late 1980s, laying the groundwork for the emergency of Haitian Wyclef Jean and The Fugees.