Take a look at the two schedules pictured above—both showing dates in the month of August—and you will see some similarities. The one on the left shows Port Salut on Aug. 5, just a day after the same listing on the right. We can see Marigot also appears on both, separated by only a few days. Then again, there is Marchand Dessalines, Cap Haitïen, Cayes and Petit Goave—all within days of each other. This is no coincidence.
The list on the right shows feast days for the patron saints of different Haitian cities; on the left are summer tour dates for the band Klass, and for the month of August the two align for a series of countryside festivals—the Fét Champét.
Arriving in the southern port city of Marigot, I found out that Klass was coming to town the way most people do: from a hand-painted sign propped up near the main road. The show was capping off four days of live music surrounding the festival for Saint Dominique—a man who died exactly 795 years prior, over 5,000 miles away in Northern Italy. But for music fans out here in the provinces, the more important fact is that this is their one chance in the year to see top bands like Klass, whose new album can be heard crackling from every bar and minibus in the country (On one bus ride, the driver played the entire record while tooting out the rhythms on his horn).
Down at the Ma Folie nightclub, the band didn’t go on till 1:30 a.m. At that point, people who had been seated around the edges of the open-air venue enjoying a glass of rum moved towards the dance floor. Vendors with cigars and spicy conch meat moved in as well. A generator the size of a tractor roared in the far corner, but from the first trumpet line announcing the summer hit “Lajan Sere,” all outside sounds disappeared.
Klass is a relatively new band in Haiti’s konpa scene—formed in Miami in 2012—and part of what has made them so successful is their ability to mix pop and Latin influences in their hooks (check out the song posted above). But no matter how the songs kick off, in concert they all settle into a steady mid-tempo konpa that everyone can sway to. The two guitar players seemed to relish that predictable moment when the other layers of the 11-piece ensemble would pull back, and their simple lines could poke through, winding round and round for six or eight minutes while the mass of bodies did the same. I worked my way out of the crowd some time after 3 a.m., but the band showed no signs of slowing down.
Haiti does not have four seasons of weather, but it does have four seasons of music. The year starts with Carnival: parties, parades, and musical competitions that veil political commentary in wordplay. Then in the spring, new albums are released to build hype for summer tours (the other top record this year came from the band Nu Look). July and August are vakans (vacation) season, a time for Haitians in the diaspora to head home, and city dwellers to head to the country. The konpa bands go with them, playing exclusive parties in Port-au-Prince and country festivals like the one in Marigot. And now as we enter the fall the music scene quiets down, especially out in the provinces. It will be another year till Klass passes this way again.