Tabou Combo has one of the most revered funk breakdowns in all of musicland. And between the voudou beats, big soul horns, salsa turns, merengue runs, and rockin' drums, this band is the most eclectic kompa crew in the world.
The group started in 1968 under the name Los Incognitos (The Unknown), evolved into Tabou Combo, and moved to New York City, packing dancefloors internationally ever since.
This weekend, the Combo will play the Bayside Rocks Festival and we spoke with founding member Yvan "Kapi" Andre about making ladies shake, fame in Panama, and Jamaican independence.
Crossfade: How does that voudou beat take control?
Yvon "Kapi" Andre: I remember one time we
were playing in L.A., and we started playing a song with Voudou drums and
there was a lady there who was possessed by the Lwa, by the spirits. She
fell down on the floor and she was shaking all over the place. When she
came back, her hair was in disarray, and her eyes were wide open, and
she didn't know where she was. Some man was laughing at her. But it
wasn't anything that was bad or her fault. She was in a trance. A half
hour later, she asked what happened and found out she had been possessed
by the spirits.
So Tabou Combo is actually one of the best bands in the world right now, right?
Yeah, not the best in the world, but it's a very tight band. Yes, it is. Out of
the Tabou Combo, four of us are original members since 1968. Over time,
we've added new blood to carry the torch when we are gone.
You are like the Rolling Stones of kompa.
We played in Manhattan at an event for Donna Karan. You know, DKNY. She
chose us to play. When Wyclef introduced the band, he introduced our
lead singer as the Haitian Mick Jagger.
How do you feel about Jamaica celebrating her 50th year of independence?
It's a great thing. One has to remember that Jamaica is not too far from Haiti. So anything that Jamaica is celebrating, Haiti is celebrating as well. Jamaica is like a sister island to Haiti. Tabou Combo is honored to be part of the festival, the main attraction being The Wailers of Bob Marley. It's a joy. It's a pleasure. Happy 50 years to Jamaica.
Some people say Haitians and Jamaicans don't like each other.
Well, I don't know about that. Maybe in Brooklyn, there is some kind of animosity. But it's not in general. It's just some isolated incidents that may have happened in the past. But you can't generalize, just a few incidents that have happened in the past. Here in Florida, this problem does not exist. I have seen many Haitians going to Jamaican parties and vice versa. My wife's best friend is from Jamaica. It's a brotherhood between Jamaica and Haiti. No problem.
How did you get into percussion?
That started a long time ago. That started way back when I was in elementary school. I was always interested in percussion instruments. But when I became a professional musician, I went to music school and got into piano as well. I use it a lot to write songs for Tabou. I love percussion, drums, all kind of percussion. I've always been attracted to percussion and I think it's a beautiful thing.
Where did you get your first drum?
Back in Haiti, I got my first drum at a store in Haiti, a music center. I was 15 and I was playing with the Diplomats de Petionville. They were much older than I was. My father did not want me to be a musician. I was allowed to play only on special occasions. The first time was at a special festival at 10am on a Sunday. I was allowed to go perform with the Diplomats.
[Tabou Combo's] Albert Chancy, when he saw me that Sunday morning, he thought I was an accomplished musician because the Diplomats were much older than me. On Monday, he told me, "You have to join my band." They were Los Incognitos, that was a Spanish name for The Unknown, and that's how I became a member. And then a year later, we became Tabou Combo.
Your band mixes a lot of styles and languages.
In 1981, the first time we went to Panama, "Mabouya" became a number-one hit song there. That's the song that Carlos Santana covered. He changed the name to "Foo Foo," but we still call it "Mabouya."
A [Panamanian] group used the rhythm and they put their own Spanish lyrics into that song. They put some nasty words into that song and it became number one because of that.
We went and performed there, and we were so well received by the Panamanian people that when we got back to the States, I thought about writing a song for them. So in appreciation, I wrote "Panama Querida" and that song became like a national anthem in Panama, and I think this song is known by every citizen that lives there to this day.
How does the beat drive your music?
Tabou Combo, what we do is we play kompa music, a popular rhythm that is played by 99 percent of the bands in Haiti. It's like reggae to Jamaica. Since we have been living in the states since the '70s, we incorporate other rhythms. We include funk, salsa, reggae, jazz, a mixture of all these elements to make it more appealing to an international audience. The formula was successful and we keep doing it. At the beginning, we didn't have horns. But in '78, we added keys, horns, and we tried to sound like Earth, Wind, and Fire because we were being influenced by what we were listening to.
The band has shows coming up in Africa right?
Yes! We are going to Gabon to perform for New Years Eve for the president himself. Somebody from his entourage, who is close to him, is a fan of Tabou Combo. He saw us in Paris at the Zenith and fell in love with the band. He said he has to bring Tabou Combo to Gabon. He called us and we set up everything, and yes we are heading to Gabon. Last year we played the Ivory Coast and Senegal, but Gabon is new to us.
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Any shout outs?
We want to invite everybody, all nations -- Jamaicans, Cubans, all these nationalities. Bring your children, su tia, su abuelo y abuela. It's gonna be a wonderful, wonderful festival.
Bayside Rocks with Luciano, Wailing Souls, Venus Rising, Cultura Profética, The Original Wailers, and others. Saturday, November 19. Bayfront Park, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. The festival begins at noon and ends at midnight. Tickets cost $35 to $55 via completeticketsolutions.com, plus two or more canned goods at the gate. Proceeds from ticket sales and food donations to benefit Curley's House. Call 305-763-4509 or visit baysiderocksfestival.com.