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International Music Resources by Country: Haiti

International Music Resources offers an array of online and physical resources both freely available and/or offered by the George F. DeVine Music Library. The information included in these guides may serve as a starting point for the study and research of


Citation (1)

Map of Haiti

Haiti map

Citation (3)

Facts in Brief

Haiti flag


Capital: Port-au-Prince

Official Languages: French and Creole

Area:  27,065 sq km

Current Population: 11,541,683

Climate: The climate is tropical, but the mountains and fresh sea winds mitigate the heat. Temperatures vary little with the seasons, and the annual average is 25°C (77°F). The rainy season is from May to November. The official languages are French and Creole.

Religions: Roman Catholicism; Voodoo

Citation (4)

Garland Encyclopedia of World Music-Haiti

Cover Art

Listen to Haitian Music

Music of Haiti: Vol. 1, Folk Music of Haiti

Alan Lomax Haiti Collection, Vol. 85: Vodoun Songs

Music of Haiti: Vol. 2, Drums of Haiti

Haitian Music

Drumming and song serve as offerings (along with food, drink, animal sacrifice, candles and dance), as calls to the lwa to enter the ceremony and as one of many ‘points of contact’ with the lwa. Songs may honour a deity or attempt to send away the lwa; honorific songs, which often display European-style drumming and harmonic implications, are called ochan.

Songs are almost always sung in call-and-response fashion between the song leader and the congregation, spoken of in Haiti as voye chante (‘sending a song’) and ranmase chante (‘gathering a song’). There is considerable variation in the length, text and melodic patterns used. Tonal relations also vary considerably due to the many historical sources for the songs. However, the majority of Vodou songs are of an anhemitonic pentatonic character, occasionally with added transitional tones. Some alternate between two tonal centres, often a tone apart.

Vodou songs can be difficult to interpret as they make use of a mystical language called langaj, allusive lyrics that frequently shift subject, nonsense phrases and concepts accessible only to those who have attained konesans (‘understanding’). Scholars have classed these songs according to the lwa to which they refer; the rites to which they belong; their formal structure, function or topic; or by the literary tropes with which they engage. Songs may list attributes of the lwa in the tradition of West African praise poetry, censure individuals or groups (as in the case of the chan pwen or ‘sung point’), comment philosophically on life (perhaps employing pawol granmounor proverbs), comment on ritual activities and actions of the service, or may speak more generally to issues such as slavery and separation from Africa.

A konbit (cooperative work association) involves a system of mutual self-help and has counterparts in West African agricultural practices. Konbit are organized differently in various parts of Haiti but generally consist of a group that supplies labour for planting (or harvesting) to its members on a rotating basis. The recipient of the free labour reciprocates with a meal and often hosts a night of music and dance. In certain parts of Haiti, konbits may also be sosyete kongo (kongo societies); elsewhere, the konbitmay be called an eskwad (squadron) or a kòvè (Fr. corvée, a legacy of slave labour practices). The labour is often accompanied by a musical ensemble whose only duty is to entertain and inspire the workers and may include a simple hoe blade on which the singer taps a timeline, a kongo percussion ensemble or a full complement of vaksin as in a rara ensemble. The simidor (or sanba) leads songs and improvises lyrics on topical subjects. Most observers of rural agriculture note that the institution of konbit is in decline.

The relative isolation of Haiti’s rural areas has permitted obscure or peripheral instruments (many of African origin) to survive, in some cases played only by children. This is the case with the tanbou marengwen (mosquito drum), which consists of a cord stretched from a small, bent tree to a hole in the ground covered with thatch. The player plucks the cord with one hand and adjusts the tension with a curved stick in the other, producing a rhythmic pattern on multiple pitches with an ethereal buzzing sound. Another instrument of probable African origin is the ganbo(stamping tube), played in an ensemble in which each player stamps two bamboo tubes of different lengths (and pitches) on the ground to create an ostinato that may substitute for a drum battery. The tubes are open at one end and have a natural node at the other. Similar ensembles have existed in Jamaica and were once popular in Trinidad Carnival (tambou bamboo).

Citation (2)


Composer Highlight: Werner Jaegerhuber

Werner Jaegerhuber

Haitian composer Werner Jaegerhuber

Haitian composer. He studied composition at the Vogt’sches Konservatorium in Hamburg. In 1921 he visited Haiti briefly and became interested in the music and folklore of his native country. He returned to Haiti permanently in 1937 and worked as a music teacher, composer and amateur painter.

Jaegerhuber was interested in producing a Haitian national musical style based on the country’s folk music. He made many transcriptions of Haitian folksongs for use in his own compositions, and worked with the ethnographer Louis Maximilien on the latter’s Le vodou haïtien, a study of Vodou rituals. He also produced a study, ‘Chants vodouesque’, which was published posthumously (Bulletin du Bureau nationale d’ethnologie d’Haïti, no.2, 1945, pp.77–101). His output includes orchestral and chamber 1985 works, as well as choral pieces and solo songs which set texts in German, French, English and Haitian creole. Stylistically his music is eclectic: his most popular works are those based on Haitian themes, especially the Messe folklorique haïtienne, which has a Latin text set to melodies inspired by the Haitian voodoo ceremony. Jaegerhuber also arranged folksongs, which he published in Complaintes haïtiennes in 1950 for the Haitian Ministry of Tourism.

Citation: Largey, M.  Jaegerhuber, Werner. Grove Music Online. Retrieved 27 Sep. 2021, from


(1): "Haiti" by Ennev is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

(2): Grenier, R., & Averill, G.  (2001). Haiti. Grove Music Online. Retrieved 1 Apr. 2020, from

(3): Country Map (Haiti), in Europa World online. London, Routledge. University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Retrieved 13 April 2018 from

(4): Location, Climate, Language, Religion, Flag, Capital (Haiti), in Europa World online. London, Routledge. University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Retrieved 21 September 2021 from