Jean Elie Telfort/Cubano the One and Only. The name that is so synonymous with our popular music: Konpa Direk is SkahShah. However, there is another name that is also symbolic with that music genre is Jean Elie Telfort or Cubano.
Today many young folks and young musicians may not know that name. Shamefully, they all heard and known of Michael Jackson. However, if Cubano is mentioned in a musical conversation, they will definitely have a hint of who he is and he stands for, the one and only Cubano, a living legend of the legendary band SkahShah, father, front man, singer, instrumentalist and composer. ” Bon flanne e Gason chelbe tou”. LOL…
That nickname Cubano was given to Mr. Telfort by Serge Rosenthal the ex-guitar player and maestro of ShleuShleu of Dada Jakaman, also one of the pioneers of the mini-jazz era. Jean Elie Telfort, a native of Port-De-Paix, Haiti, came to fame after being an MC at a popular gig of the 1960’s for the group Tabou Combo at the Paramount theatre in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Little that he knew, Shoubou and Tabou Combo were going to be his toughest competitors in NYC in the 1970s.
Cubano, whom I have met so many times as a loyal fan then of ShleuShleu and SkahShah, is a very well-mannered individual. He is well known throughout the Haitian music industry and well respected by his peers. Cubano is undeniably the face of SkahShah just like his childhood friend and competitor Roger M. Eugeune aka Shoubou is to Tabou Combo. However, Cubano and SkahShah will always co-exist because of their unforgettable successes together. Although, they are apart now, if Cubano is well known today is because of his own talent and the contribution of his fellow musicians of SkahShah.
Cubano is versatile. He has a distinctive voice that can’t be replicated. Mr. Telfort writes and produces his own music which is a pre-requisite for a true artist. He has under his belts a very large selection of self-composed hit songs starting with the very famous one of ShleuShleu “Toup pou Yo” when Haiti participated for the first time in the world cup soccer game in 1974. I was young, but that song echoed in my head then and now. Back then every radio station, the streets Mardi Gras, schools etc. played that song nonstop as one and the primary well-defined song for our ball club. That song was also used as motivation for the country as a whole. Cubano can play football too and he is pretty good at playing Tennis as well.
Jean Elie Telfort and his band mates also wrote those of my Shleu-Shleu favorites: “Haiti Shleu-Shleu “Rum Barbancourt”, “Reviens,”Bel Ti Machan”etc. That same year 1974, he joined his band mates in NYC. At that point the game was over for the competition. The emancipation of SkahShah was the talk of the town in NYC, the motherland and the French Caribbean Islands and Africa. C’eteit du jamais vu. I was not in NYC at that time to witness such phenomenon but folks who were, compared SkahShah to the Beatles in the 1960s.
Nowadays, SkahShah is being pulled into two different directions; one Skahshah in Florida and one in NYC. Some may say is because of this guy or that guy. Nonetheless, Cubano is still relevant as yesterday as it is today. We all have imperfection within ourselves. Cubano is no different than the rest of us. Mr. Jean ElieTelfort is a God given talent. He doesn’t just sing. He is a smooth harmonica player like Stevie Wonder as a reference point. Listen to SkahShah“Loving you” as a reference song where Cubano displayed that talent on the harmonica. He plays the guitar, as well as the bass. I remember one night at the Coconut Grove in Brooklyn, NY where SkahShah and Timanno were performing, Kôkô was late while Zouzoule was on the microphone, Cubano played the bass for a couple of songs until the bass player came in. I am one of Cubano’s toughest critics and he is also my idol. Please, allow me to say that there is no perfection in life. If for some strange reason, one feels that he contributed to the detriment of SkahShah. On the other hand, one should also acknowledge that he was the X factor of Skahshah successes. Consequently, he deserves a round of applause for the existence and the rise of SkahShah. Besides, there are always two sides to a story and sometimes even three and that third one is the truth. That is if one can be impartial to the facts.
In addition, Cubano’s biggest personal success is his solo album “L’Essence”. However, his greatest ones were being part of the legendary band SkahShah. Nonetheless, the moment he dropped “L’Essence”, it was an instant classic that every konpa lover like myself should have in their music collections. Cubano, I really appreciate your hard work and your lifetime contribution to our so fragile and instable popular music. Your energy and God given talent would worth a lot more if you could to come to terms with your fellow band mates of SkahShah and think of us, the fans for once. Tabou Combo is still touring as a unit. SkahShah can do that.
Let me personally thank you for being the Godfather of konpa Direk and a paradigm for other front men in the business for years to come. I do my part by praising your body of work while you are still with us because it would be a shame to do it after you are gone.
Thank you, Mr. Jean Elie Telfort, Cubano for a job well done.