Haitians marry two passions under one venue – soccer and konpa

The amateur soccer tournaments had been happening for years, attracting a loyal Sunday following at Florida International University’s North Miami campus when Patrick Fabre decided that the competition needed its own assist. 

“It needed something to accompany it to make it a bit more competitive, attractive,” Fabre said. That something, he quickly concluded, was music. But not just any music —live music featuring some of the hottest Haitian konpa bands belting out their latest crowd pleasing hits before soccer aficionados in an outdoor concert rather than their usual nightclub circuit. 

“Some people don’t want to go to nightclubs, some are church goers or too old, but they want to hear live konpa,” Fabre said. “So we added the bands, the same ones you go watch for $40 and $50 in a nightclub.”

This Sunday, Fabre, the founder of the Madame Gougousse Haiti Cup, will introduce the final of the the Super 8, a new edition to the 16 year-old amateur soccer tourney that normally runs between March and May. The Super 8, which kicked off on July 3, will have it final showdown beginning at 5 p.m. The final four best teams will be competing for a $10,000 first place and $5,000 runner up prize.

And to keep fans entertained and the competitive ambiance going well past the final goal, Fabre will feature the bands behind two of the hottest konpa singles released this summer, Klass and dISIP. 

After a two year hiatus, Haitian konpa artist Gazzman Couleur recently released his band dISIP’s third album, Klere Yo.

Fabre, who manages dISIP and Gabel, another konpa band, bills the concert as two separate performances and not a battle of the bands. Fans, however, may see it as otherwise given the bands’ historical polemic and their respective lead singers’, Gazzman Coeuleur and Edersse “Pipo” Stanis, shared history.

Both artists were formerly one half of NuLook, another popular konpa band, headed by crooner Arly Lariviere, and both broke away and formed their own bands as NuLook was enjoying immense success. Both Klass and dISIP released new CDs within weeks of each other earlier this year, and are each enjoying huge responses from fans with their first releases — “M’ap Marye”  for Klass and “Heartbreak & Misery” for dISIP — as the former becomes the dance ballad of the summer and the latter, a sign of konpa’s evolution. 

Klass lead singer Pipo performing recently in Jeremie, Haiti.

“We didn’t know it would move so quickly,” Pipo said about his album’s “Fè’l Ak Tout Kè’w (Do It With All of Your Heart)” reception with fans. “We released it and two days later, people were already singing the lyrics to the song.”

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the band, whose posters are blanketing Port-au-Prince, created an excitement about their second album even before its April release date. Back from their summer tour in Haiti, where they crisscrossed with dISIP and other konpa bands touring the country promoting their new releases, Pipo is now hoping that South Florida fans equally enjoy the songs. 

“Haitians are crazy about soccer and music,” he said. “So when you put these two together it makes a boom.” 

For Gazzman, who spent two years working on dISIP’s third album and his tenth, “Klere Yo (Enlighten Them),” the response has been equally overwhelming from Haitian music fans — and critics. 

“I don’t even sing ‘Heartbreak & Misery’ in Haiti,” he said, referring to the fever pitch the hit is igniting with fans whose voices routinely overpower his in concerts as they sing the Creole and English lyrics fused to konpa, zouk and R&B beats. 

“This album is different,” Gazzman added. “We wanted to do something completely different, to feature a mixture of different genres of music.”

The CD’s executive producer Gazzman wrote most of it songs while collaborating with other producers like famed Tabou Combo guitarist and hit maker Dener Ceide. Ceide is in fact the producer of “Heartbreak & Misery,” a konpa adaptation of the 2009 R&B song “Jealous” by Labrinth. 

“It’s something you never heard before in the konpa world,” Gazzman said, noting that the album is also deeply personal and autobiographical with his ode to never losing faith in the track Etap (Step).

“The messages are very powerful in this CD,” he said.

Fabre said he hopes fans on Sunday will appreciate not just the tournament but also the musical creativity in an industry that can use a boost 61years after konpa dirèk, also known as the Haitian modern merengue, was founded. Both Klass and dISIP, he said, have released good albums “but dISIP’s is better.”

“During the past two years, dISIP has was on the low-down and didn’t receive a lot of attention. The band has come a long way,” he added.

With the amateur soccer teams employing names such as O’Kap, St. Marc and Gonaives, all cities of Haiti, the tournaments have also become a battle of the country’s departments as fans from those cities come out to cheer on the representatives of their hometowns. The ambiance is further aided by the colorful carnival sounds of Rara Lakay’s drum beating rhythms in the stands. 

Consul Guy Francois from Miami’s Haitian Consulate office says the tournaments, which easily draws crowds of 3,000 to 5,000, have truly turned into a cultural event. He concedes that sometimes he goes not necessarily for the matches, but to reminisce about home while enjoying the $1.50 peanuts being sold in the stands and the fresco, flavored syrup poured over shaved ice, sold from the colorful Haitian taxi known as a Tap-Tap parked on the sidelines. 

 “This tournament brings you the flavor of Haiti,” Francois said. “Every summer we had similar types of soccer tournaments in Port-au-Prince and the provinces followed by music. There are basically four things that define our rich culture —food, music, history and our love for soccer. ”