CaRiMi: hip hop from Haiti

Though musical trio CaRiMi have made it big in the US, their music still captures the struggles of their homeland

CaRiMi members Carlo Vieux, Richard Cave and Mickael Guirand in St Maarten. Photograph by Judy H Fitzpatrick

Haitian trio CaRiMi burst onto the music scene in the United States in 2001 with their hip-hop kompa sounds. The trio of Mickael Guirand, Carl Vieux and Richard Cavé were involved in music in Haiti for many years before migrating to the USA about a decade ago. They regrouped to form CaRiMi (the name is made up of the first two letters of the trio’s first names).

Their first single “Ayiti (Haiti) Bang Bang”, released in 2001, did well in Haiti, Guadeloupe, France, French Guyana, and Canada. CaRiMi’s other hits, among them “Sak Fet Nan Carimi”, “Kompa Breakdancer”, “Couvre Feu”, and “Pran Poz Ou”, have been popular with the Haitian diaspora and around the region. They have produced three albums: CaRiMi Live, 2002; Nasty Bizniz in 2003; and Are You Ready in 2006. They are working on their fourth.

CaRiMi has been described as one of the first younger-generation, digital bands to produce music that captures the realities of the challenging political and socio-economic situation in the struggling Haiti.

Judy Fitzpatrick caught up with the group during their visit to St Maarten earlier this year, and talked to Guirand about his musical and political hopes.

Tell us about your new album, due out at the end of the year
We want to keep the name private for now and make it a surprise, but we are trying to be very experimental. We will go back to what made us successful, and at the same time try some new stuff. We’ve been in the studio for months, and we might drop a single and a video just in time to announce our new album.

Will it be a full kompa album?
The core of our album will be a lot of Creole mixed with R’n’B and some CaRiMi flavour. We will also experiment with languages.

How much of the Caribbean has the group performed in?
We’ve been in a lot of islands: Aruba, St Maarten, Dominica, Montserrat, Guadeloupe, French Guyana [sic], St Lucia, Tortola and Antigua. We are getting ready to go to Panama and New Caledonia. There are many islands lined up and so many festivals interested in our music, and we are really excited about it.

What does CaRiMi set out to achieve when it performs?
We play music to make you forget whatever problems you’re having at home, or make a country forget whatever problems they’re going through, even if it’s just for a few hours, to just have fun. We’re Caribbean and we play kompa, real music that is soothing and interesting for people no matter where they come from.

What do you think needs to be done to bring about political stability in Haiti?
The problems in Haiti are deeply rooted and it will take a while to change. Things can be done, but at the same time, everybody has to put their hands together and try to help. We get involved locally to help. I help the people in my neighbourhood with kids going to school, for example, and the other members do the same.

What are the misconceptions about Haiti?
People say Haiti is among the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, but at the same time, I just came from carnival in Haiti and I think we have one of the best carnivals in the Caribbean. Despite all the stuff that you hear, we have a huge carnival.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?
I’ve always said that after ten years I’ll go back home to Haiti and maybe donate the rest of my good years to get involved either politically, socially or some other way. I think that with the status that I would have acquired, I might have enough influence to try to get involved. My entire family is there – my mom, dad, brothers and sisters – so I don’t mind going back and getting involved.

Amidst all the economic turmoil in the USA, how is your music faring?
Things are hard but we’re managing. When a lot of people are under stress, they go to parties and to CaRiMi concerts to relieve that stress. So we are pretty much on the right side of the fence right now.