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Reviewed by:
  • Histoire du style musical d’Haïti by Claude Dauphin
  • Lauren Eldridge
Histoire du style musical d’Haïti. By Claude Dauphin. Montreal: Mémoire d’Encrier, 2014. ISBN 2897122056. 374 pp. CAN$26.96 paperback.

Typically, musicologists treat Haitian musical genres individually, and the resulting monographs reflect one specific genre in their titles. For example, the titles of Rara! Vodou, Power, and Performance in Haiti and Its Diaspora (2002), by Elizabeth McAlister, and Vodou Nation: Haitian Art Music and Cultural Nationalism (2006), by Michael Largey, indicate their focus on a singular form or style of music. Haitian musicologists are not immune from this tendency: Dancing Spirits: Rhythms and Rituals of Haitian Vodun, the Rada Rite (1996), by Gerdes Fleurant, is a tremendous survey of a very specific genre. Even Constantin Dumervé’s study, broadly titled Histoire de la musique en Haïti (1968), limits its focus to musicians and composers who use written text. However, in Histoire du style musical d’Haïti, Claude Dauphin stretches his ten chapters to encompass a remarkable range of genres and sensibilities.

The first chapter, titled “Archéologie du style: Les Composantes ethniques et culturelles [d’]un style musical Haïtien,” begins with a rich review of precolonial and colonial-era musical culture in Saint Domingue. Its final section on the African contribution feeds directly into the second chapter, “La Musique du vaudou,” where Dauphin walks the reader through a very detailed tour of musical sounds that are associated with various Vodou rites. Percussion transcriptions are offered to demonstrate differences in rhythm between the yanvalou and petro families of practice. These categories are also formatted into a table for the reader’s benefit. The third chapter delves into the categorization and profiling of Haiti’s wide array of musical instruments. Known to ethnomusicologists as organology, this type of detailed study is valuable for what it conveys about the function of music both in the past and in the present. This chapter is an impressive organology resource, not just for Haitian music or music of the African diaspora but for music globally. It continues in the tradition of Curt Sachs and Erich von Hornbostel, whom Dauphin cites, in presenting an encyclopedic catalog of musical instrumentation. For the reader’s easy reference, Dauphin provides tables summarizing his categorizations as well as illustrations of some of the instruments. [End Page 144]

The fourth chapter wades into familiar territory for the reader acquainted with Haitian studies: “Le Conte chanté” covers a broad assortment of sung stories, proverbs, and parables. In a particularly effective choice, Dauphin toggles between Creole and French. He provides original song texts in Creole, translates them into French, and then analyzes them. A reader not already familiar with Haitian Creole may find this to be a very helpful introduction to the language. The author ascribes a musicality to the Creole language itself in a subsequent chapter:

À l’image de cette langue syncrétique, au vocabulaire français prédominant et à la syntaxe africaine soutenue, naquit une musique dont les mélodies sont souvent empruntées aux bergerettes des régions de France et transformées par le rythme insinuant de la prosodie africaine transférée au créole.


(This syncretic language reflects a predominance of French vocabulary and an African syntax that birthed melodies from French regions, transformed by African prosody into Creole.)1

Chapter 5 covers urban popular music genres such as konpa and rasin by examining their roots in the méringue of the nineteenth century. Dauphin supports his musicological study throughout with etymological analysis, a point that may draw the interest of linguists. For example, there is a longstanding, contentious debate over the origins of the meringue: specifically, which side of Hispaniola produced such a pivotal genre. Did merengue precede méringue, or vice versa? Dauphin delves deeply into historical narratives and responds to these questions by providing context for the practice of genre naming. Also present in this chapter is the author’s attention to matters of gender in the musical canon. He attempts to balance the record of venerated performers:

Celles de Lumane Casimir, d’Émerante de Pradines, de Martha Jean-Claude et de Toto...


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pp. 144-147
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