Tabou Combo's Kapi Talks Jimmy Buffett, Royalties, and Restavek

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Haitian dance band Tabou Combo has come a long way since starting out as Los Incognitos in Petionville, Haiti, in 1968.

After moving to New York City in the '70s, Yvon "Kapi" Andre and the rest of the group has ignited disco floors from Gabon to Miami with its dancetastic funk. They are konpa's great ambassadors and Haiti's biggest band. They've opened for Jimmy Buffett in Ohio, written Panama's unofficial national anthem, and even charmed fashion mogul Donna Karan.

On Friday, April 20, Kapi and crew will play a free show as part of Rhythm Foundation and Little Haiti Cultural Center's monthly Big Night in Little Haiti bash. We spoke with Mr. Andre about Bayfront Park, making hits, and fighting for the Restaveks.

How's it goin', dude?

It feels great. The Rhythm Foundation has been having some serious concerts, and we're happy to be back in Florida. We had worked with them in 1989 at Bayfront Park, playing with Jimmy Buffett. That was the first time we had the opportunity to work with the Rhythm Foundation.

Damn, Jimmy Buffett, huh?

We had the privilege of playing with him again in Cleveland and Cincinatti in 2004. It was a great experience at the baseball stadium with like 60,000 people. It was fun.

What are you up to these days?

I'm working on a solo project similar to the Buena Vista Social Club project. But with Haitian tunes from '50s and '60s rearranged in a modern way.

How have things changed from when you started?

In 1975, we had a major hit song, New York City, in France. We performed for the French superstars and the crème de la crème of Fench society. We sold 800,000 copies of that single and then got screwed by our so-called impresario, our agent, and didn't really get paid. We were young and we screwed up. But in 2003, when Santana covered one of our songs, it was a totally different experience in getting paid royalties and what was due to us.

You played New Year's Eve in Africa, right?

New Year's Eve in Africa was great. In 42 years, this is the best reception we have had anywhere in the world. It was incredible the way we were treated from the airport to the day we left. It was beautiful, sensational. We played two concerts in ten days and just relaxed. We were treated like royalty. We were treated like the King of England.

How long will you continue doing it?

Hopefully, we keep doing it till we're 80 years old. We have incorporated some young members, young bloods, that will take over five years from now or so. We are grooming them. I'm 61 years old, and I'm physically fit. But there's a time, sooner or later, when you gonna get tired of it. But who knows.

Have you written any new songs?

One is called "SOS for Homeless Children." A restavek is a type of slave, usually youngsters, mostly females who are often forced to work for nothing. [They are often abused too.] And I figured it was essential for me to address this issue. [The term] restavek is a Kreyol word from a French expression for "one who stays with." It is a child you take from the countryside, bring to your house, who works for and lives with you. Some families send them to school and clothe them properly and care for them like another child. But some are ruthless and work them like slaves. I've been trying to get in touch with UNICEF to work on a song about it.

Do you play any other instruments besides drums?

I went to the Jazzmobile school in Brooklyn during the Carter adminstration and develped a special love for piano more than for percussion. I play, arrange, and write, and it's beautiful playing the piano. When you're feeling the blues, some people drink and smoke. I play my piano and I feel all right.

Tabou Combo as part of Big Night in Little Haiti, presented by Rhythm Foundation. Friday, April 20. Little Haiti Cultural Center, 212-260 NE 59th Terr., Miami. The show starts at 6 p.m. and admission is free. Call 305-672-5202 or visit bignightlittlehaiti.com.

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