This is the story of a super group of over 10 members, as was common in the 1970s. Founded in 1968 by a group of friends who went to the same school and played soccer together, the “Incognitos de Pétionville” did not stick around long, neither incognito, since their immediate success propelled them in 1969 to “Top musical group of the year,” according to Radio Haïti, nor in Pétionville, since in a context of dictatorship they fled the Duvalier regime to settle in New York in 1970.
Tabou Combo is, in some ways, the Rolling Stones of Haiti. Like the Stones, they have been around and done hundreds of crazy things. Or rather hundreds of songs. In a half-century on stage, these ambassadors of Haitian konpa have recorded about 40 albums. Blending the merengue of their Dominican neighbours with traditional Haitian rara, Zairian soukouss, American funk and even the old quadrilles and contredanses of the French ancien régime, Tabou Combo is a veritable dancing machine that never misses its goal. They sing in Haitian creole as well as in English, French and Spanish, and they embody Haitian konpa in much the same way as Kassav embodies Martinique zouk or Celia Cruz exemplifies Cuban salsa.
New York definitely launched their international career, with a million sales for their 1974 hit “New York City.” They inspired generations of young Haitian musicians, of course, along with well known producers. In 1985, French producer Maurice Pialat chose the song “Juicy Lucy” for his film Police, with Gérard Depardieu and Sophie Marceau. In 1989, two Tabou Combo tracks were included on the soundtrack of Mystery Date, produced by Jonathan Demme just before the huge success of The Silence of the Lambs. The swaying beats of their konpa also seduced guitarist Carlos Santana who, in 2001, took up their song “Mabouya.”
Nicknamed the “indestructibles,” the four original members, Capi, Coq, Shoubou and Fanfan, carry on and continue to extend the worldwide reach of konpa. With only four of the 12 founders still around, it is fair to ask how Tabou Combo has managed to maintain its identity despite the large-scale coming and going of musicians who have taken over on brass, accordion, guitar, bass and percussions. “We have maintained the original background while changing the shape,” explains lead vocalist Roger M. Eugène, alias “Shoubou,”who has been at the forefront since the group’s beginnings in 1968. “Our young colleagues understand konpa very well. They have embedded the tradition. Perched on the shoulders of the old-timers, the newcomers can see further!”