Caribbean Conflict and Music: A Story of Difference and Unity in Haiti and the Dominican Republic

By Lucy Thames

I first heard authentic Dominican Bachata in my sophomore year of high school, when my Spanish teacher decided that we hadn’t had enough cultural education. Throughout the year, she taught us how to dance Bachata, how to sing along to Bachata music, and how to experience Dominican culture on a personal level. Yet it wasn’t until I came to UNC that I realized I had never heard anything about the music of the Dominican Republic’s closest neighbor, Haiti. A comparison between the music of Haiti and the Dominican Republic shows just how different they are – and, as I have learned in my Latin American Studies course this fall, the relationship between these two nations is even more complicated than their varying musical styles.

Analysis of the Conflict

Island of Hispaniola

Island of Hispaniola – Haiti and the Dominican Republic Credits: Furian, Peter. Hispaniola Political Map. Digital image. Dreamstime. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2015. <>.

The conflict between Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispaniola has existed for centuries. By 1795, after a long period of Spanish rule, the entire island fell to the French. However, many Dominicans preferred Spanish colonization to French rule, and organized a group to drive the French out of Hispaniola and reestablish Spanish reign. The Haitians retaliated with great force, and took control of all of Hispaniola themselves – including the Dominican Republic. Instead of the Dominican Republic ruling over Haiti, as the Dominicans originally planned, they found themselves trapped under Haitian rule and could not achieve independence until 1844 (Gibson). This “failure,” as many Dominican people perceived it, insulted their national pride and embittered the two countries’ relationship as neighbors. The period of Haitian rule over the Dominican Republic, though now more than one hundred and fifty years ago, continues to cause bitterness and discrimination between these two areas today.

Analysis of the Music

 Kadans (or cadence) is one of the main types of traditional Haitian music. It emerged in Haiti in the 1960s, and spread quickly in the Caribbean through movement of Haitian immigrants. Many variations of Kadans exist, including Cadence-lypso and Cadence Rampa (also known as Kompa). Webert Sicot, one of the first Kadans artists along with his brother Raymond, produced many different songs that came to define the Kadans sound (“Kadans”).

Webert Sicot’s song, “A La Guadeloupe”, is an example of a variation of Kadans music known as Cadence Rampa.

Though Kadans did not originate very far away from the Dominican Bachata, it developed a very different sound than that of its neighbor. While Bachata traditionally places an emphasis on guitar sounds, Kadans focuses on the brassy sounds of various horns throughout its songs. Bachata songs of love and loss typically have a much slower beat than the Haitian Kadans. However, these styles of music also have many similarities. Like Bachata, the pieces of Kadans performed by Webert Sicot tend to have a shaker in the background, like maracas, that keeps a steady beat. And, though these pieces often have different subject materials, they possess similar lilting melodies sung with a full, belting vocal technique.

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Table Summarizing Similarities and Differences between Kadans and Bachata

Analysis of the Union

With all of the differences described above, it’s tough to imagine what a union of these two kinds of music would produce. However, in the 1970s, a group known as Exile One emerged with a new kind of Caribbean music – Cadence-lypso (“Exile One”).

“Aki yaka” Performed by the Fusion Group Exile One

Exile One originated not in the Dominican Republic, not in Haiti, but in Dominica – a small island in the West Indies. Yet the founder of the group, Gordon Henderson, chose not to generate a completely new sound; instead, he created a fusion of Caribbean music that already existed (“Exile One”). If you listen to the music of Exile One, you’ll hear techniques from both traditional Haitian Kadans and Dominican Bachata. Like Kadans, their music tends to have a faster beat and brass influences. Like Bachata, their music contains spotlights which focus on guitar sounds, and strong drum influence in the background to maintain a steady beat. Unlike either style of music, the Cadence-lypso developed by Exile One has a celebratory voice that often calls out in the middle of pieces, like in “Aki yaka” above. Though this fusion combined music from two very different nations in conflict, as well as other Caribbean influences, it is not only celebrated widely in the Caribbean, but also as far as North America, Europe, and even Japan (“Exile One”).

Analysis of the Future

As the Dominican Republic tires of Haitian immigrants arriving to its country, the tensions between the two nations continue to escalate. In 2013, the Constitutional Court of the Dominican Republic ruled that people born in the Dominican Republic are not automatically considered citizens, and instead must prove their citizenship using documents – a ruling that will likely designate close to 200,000 Dominican people of Haitian descent as stateless. The government of the Dominican Republic is now undertaking a “cleansing” project to send all people who cannot prove their citizenship back to Haiti (Phillip).

During this deep period of animosity on both sides of the Hispaniola border, one of the most powerful ways to create any sense of unity will be through music. Music has the ability to shape peoples’ views, change peoples’ opinions, and bring people together. As new fusion groups like Exile One continue to emerge and be celebrated across the Caribbean and beyond, they will facilitate the creation of greater musical unity between these two nations. Could this musical unity transition into an improved sense of understanding and respect between the two nations? Only time will tell.

Works Cited:

“Exile One.” Project Gutenberg. World Public Library. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. <>.

Gibson, Carrie. “The Dominican Republic and Haiti: One Island Riven by an Unresolved past.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 7 Oct. 2013. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. <>.

“Kadans.” Project Gutenberg. World Public Library. Web. 11 Nov. 2015. <>.

Phillip, Abby. “The bloody origins of the Dominican Republic’s ethnic ‘cleansing’ of Haitians.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 17 Jun. 2015. Web. 11 Nov. 2015.



2 thoughts on “Caribbean Conflict and Music: A Story of Difference and Unity in Haiti and the Dominican Republic

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