Interview With Fanfan TiBot of Tabou Combo

How and why you guys formed Tabou Combo?

The year was 1962, a musical revolution was taking place in Europe, precisely in England. Groups like “the Beatles and the “Rolling Stones “were taking Europe and the United States by storm. Haiti was chosen by the French music industry as a potential market for French Rock and Roll as a former Colony. In every upper class and some middle class neighborhoods a group was being formed. They started playing rock and then came back to Konpa. Tabou Combo was formed at the image of new generation of Haitian musicians called the Mini Jazz. The first Mini Jazz was “Les Shleu Shleu.”

What is the precise date when Tabou Combo came together?

We started in 1967 as “ Los Incognitos “ and then renamed the band “Tabou Combo in December 1968 in order to participate in a Mini Jazz contest organized by Radio Haiti.

What’s the story behind the name Tabou Combo?

The name Los Incognitos was not original enough. We wanted a more Haitian name for the band. Albert Chancy chose the name TABOU since at Rue Pavee in Port-au-Prince there was a florist named “Tabou Fleurs” he found it cool. The Combo part came from “Ibo Combo “ a musical band that were our idols at the time.

How did you get that nick name Fanfan Tibot?

In my neighborhood there were two Fanfans and we both wore boots to go to school. The other Fanfan was much bigger than me so to differentiate the two, our friend, Jean Geneus who is the actual Minister of The Disapora gave us the name Gros Bot and Ti Bot.

What differentiates Tabou Combo from all other Konpa bands?

Tabou Combo has always been an experimental group in a sense that we always want to break into the international market. Therefore we sing in English Spanish ,French and Creole . Our stage work has always been dynamic. We are more focused on Concerts than bals. We had a taste of the World market very early in 1975 with “New York City “.

While doing some research for this interview, I found out that you started out as the conga player for the band than moved up front as a singer…what was this transition like?

I started as a Congas player indeed and I was a good one too. I think I can still kick it if I wanted too. The change began when our friend Renald Valme the actual congas player came to New York and I was the sound-man for the band. I could not do both so I gave up my position and worked as a back up singer and a sound-man until we hired a full time sound-man. When I wrote and sang the song Aux Antilles, I became a full front-man.

For the new generation, give them a little background history lesson of the musical feud that existed between Tabou and Skah Shah…what stand out the most about that polemic?

Hill. We both fought for that position as much as we could. I think Skah Shah won the battle in the Haitian Community whereas Tabou captured the rest of the world from France, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Panama, Japan, St.Martin etc… that was our dream from the get go. We conquered the bigger market. The polemic was a lot of fun and very benign we did not shoot at each other.

Who were some of your greatest influence and why?

As a song writer I listen to a lot of Rock and Roll until now. Stones ,Beatles, Hootie and the Blow Fish. I listen to, Earth Wind and Fire, The O’ Jays, Curtis Mayfield, Isley Brothers. I listen to African music also my idol was Franco a guitar player from Zaire; he’s the one who inspired me” Mario Mario.” I listen to lyrics that make sense since I strongly believe that God gave us the gift of music for a reason. My reason is to pass messages to my people and I think I have fulfilled that mission. I could have been a human rights lawyer after graduating from College but I think that my music allows me to send a stronger message. I want to be a role model for the Haitian people. We lack role models in the Community.

What would you say as far as events in your life or career that had the greatest impact on you?

There are a few that I can remember until now:

1- The first time we came back to Haiti as a group with Dadou Pasquet

2-When we had our first gold record in 1975 in Europe

3- When we landed in Panama for the first time

4- Tabou Combo Kassav at Djoumbala in Haiti

Do you remember your first gig as a professional musician? What was it like?

My first gig with Tabou Combo was at the “ Presbytere “ of L’Eglise St.Pierre in Petion-Ville. It was a little chaotic but a lot of fun. Each of us got paid the equivalent of one quarter in gourdes.

How many countries have Tabou Combo been to?

Too Many. I can name a few: France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Japan, Switzerland, England, Panama, Costa Rica, St Croix, St.Thomas, St Martin, St Kitts, Martinique , Guadeloupe, Guyana, Aruba, Curacao, St. Domingue, St. Lucia, Dominica, St. Barth.

What have you learned from so many gigs outside the Haitian Music Industry?

One basic thing . On a professional World musicians are respected by both the promoter and the public. Therefore well treated, well paid. The Organization is more professional.

What kind of music did you listen to growing up?

Dodoph Legros, Tipico Cibaeno, Jazz des Jeunes, Nemours Jean Baptiste, Webert Sicot. Then as a teeneager I listened to: Charles Aznavour , Dick Rivers, Johnny Holliday , Ray Charles, Ibo Combo Shleu Shleu ect…

Any musician you would love to work with but have not had the opportunity to?

Not really, I think that I play in the best band.  As a congas player I liked Mongo Santamaria , Ray Baretto I like the rhythm section of Carlos Santana and Ruben Blades. I don’t think I would have been a musician without Tabou Combo.

What inspire you when you are composing a song?

It could be a fictitious situation like “Aux Antilles ‘ or a real situation like “ Prejuje “it can also be a dream like in “Banbou Panche “any situation is good as long as I am inspired.

What are your top 5 songs out of all Tabou Combo’s albums?

Mabouya , Aux Antilles , Bolero Jouk li Jou , Banbou Panche , Kitem Fe Zafem.

If you had to form a dream band consisting of past musicians and present musicians…who would it consist of?

Joe Charles “ bass “ Richie “ drums “ Ernst Marcelin, Fabrice Rouzier “Keyboards “ or Dany and Nickenson on some songs , Jean Claude Jean Rhythm guitar, Dadou Pasquet , Ralph Conde ,” Guitar “ myself on congas , Kino , Shoubou , Emeline Michel , Jocelyne Berouard “vocals “ and Patrick St Elie on Percussion.

Do you find your composing process nowadays to be introspective as you grow older?

Not really, I write for others. I don’t think of myself at all in songs. I can express a personal experience but only for the sake of teaching others. My songs are for the people.

You are stuck on an island alone, what 10 albums you would have wished have brought with you?

The Best of Santana, the best of Jimi Hendrix , Tabou Gold , Rolling Stone, Kassav, Happy 50 Konpa, Nickenson, the best of Earth wind and Fire, Haiti Twoubadou 1 and 2 , Juan Luis Guerra and Ruben Blades.

Here are some names that I would like you to give an opinion of with the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear those names:

 Coupe Cloue …. the best twoubadou from Haiti

 Ti Manno ….. a sensational Haitian singer with strong messages

 Cubano – Had a good run as a konpa singer mixed salsa and konpa, fits skah shah very well

 Emeline Michel –the best Haitian female vocalist since Lumane Casimir

 Misty Jean –has potential but needs a good songwriter

 Alan Cave –The master of konpa/love

 Richie (Zenglen)- Good drummer and good songwriter needs to explore the international market more ….too local

 King Kino- Could have been the biggest Haitian superstar had he had time to listen.

 Armstrong Jeune- Very Zouk need to be more original. Good singer though .

 Gazman –Good look and good stage presence

 TanTan-Very Michael Jackson and good singer

 Isnard Douby-Very good Haitian entertainer fits System band well.

 Roberto Martino- (both jr and sr) Robert Sr. started in a good foot until he started playing with the drum machine. Jr. is a good show-businessman.

 Mickael Guirand-Very improved singer with lots of talent but needs to explore some other style.

 Dadou Pasquet-Good stage presence needs to be more open.

How many songs in total does Tabou Combo have in its catalog? And how many have you written?

I wish I had time to take an in-depth look. I can say from the top of my head that Tabou has about 150 songs. I probably wrote about 50 and contributed in most of the rest.

Were you in any other band beside Tabou Combo?

No! I would not have been a musician without Tabou Combo.

What do you think is the state of the Haitian Music Industry?

I think doing very well for some and very bad for others as usual. We never had good promoters and producers just fly by nights. There is also a lack of imagination in this business and no real money.

Many have criticized Tabou for not opening doors to newer generation bands to the world market…some even go as far as saying that you guys suppressed opportunities for up coming bands…what do you have to say to those critics?

They are just crazy. Tabou Combo does not hold the key to the World Market. Nobody opened the door for us we did it by taking chances in our songs. We had an album with four songs written in English. Name a Haitian band who is willing to take chances and I will work with them. Carimi is very close but needs to open up more. Buy all the labels and most of the radio Stations in Haiti. There is no power without control. There are no set rules in this industry. We need regulations as in any other markets. No ethics at all in this market.

Can you describe the concept and sound of the up-coming Tabou Combo album?

The new Tabou Album will be out for the 40th. Anniversary. It’s going to explode. It’s going to be extremely professional and done by professionals.

What is the most important thing you want people to know about Tabou Combo?

Tabou Combo is an example of: tolerance, togetherness and altruism. It is the best band that this Country has ever produced.

What is the best live show Tabou Combo has ever done?

Tabou Combo 30th. Anniversary “ Live au Zenith”. We played for four hours non stop. The public was shocked.

Is there any trend within the new generation that you just cannot stand  or wish disappears?

Stop the Konpa/Zouk mechanical type of music and get into some real Haitian music with lots of percussion and energy.

What project are you working on right now?

We are preparing the 40th anniversary tour we need to do four Zenith in a row.

Any tours coming up?

Yes. Dominica Festival, California, Haiti Reunion Tour with all the former members to celebrate Radio Superstars 20th anniversary. Ivory Coast, Switzerland, France. Haiti again with Skah Shah probably.

 What is the plan for the band as you guys reach your 40th anniversary?

A super album with many guests’ artists and a World tour.

What do you consider to be a milestone for Tabou Combo musical career?

When New York City reached the # 1 spot in Europe, when our songs are played in three or four movies, when Carlos Santana recorded Mabouya and played it at the Super Bowl.

 Do you have any advice for musicians who want to even make a reasonable living in the industry?

Think outside the BOX. Reach out for the World.

Shoubou announced his retirement for 2008… any replacement for him yet? And will you follow suit?

Shoubou knows that Tabou has to go on. He has to start reaching out for a new singer.

How do you manage to juggle your musical life and your family life?

Very easy my wife knew me when I was a musician and herself travels a lot for her job. We are happy when we get together.

On your off time, what do you do?

Play tennis, ride my bike, jog, read about Haitian history, help my son with his homework, cut the grass, clean the house, and watch big concerts on dvds.

Thank you Fanfan! 

Thank you Opa…it was a pleasure.

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