Rare Recordings by Haiti's Legendary Drummer


According to Toyo Nakamura, probably Japan’s foremost music journalist, who lovingly compiled this CD, Tiroro is one of the great legends of 20th century popular music, one of the world’s greatest ever drummers, and an unheralded genius. However, little is known or has been written about him, except he is usually referred to as ‘The Greatest Drummer in Haiti’. Toyo’s greatest ally in this opinion, was probably jazz great Max Roach, who often cited Tiroro as a major influence.

Tiroro was obviously a well-known figure in Haiti. One of the few books on Haiti to mention Tiroro published in 1954 and written by Seldan Rodman mentions how the "virtuoso drumming is something else again, and to hear it one must hear (and also see) the now celebrated ‘Ti Roro’. It goes on to tell how Tiroro arrived in Miami without a passport and $7 in his pocket, "frankly amazed to be asked who he was, he replied ‘Everybody knows ‘Ti Roro,’ and followed this statement with a classical demonstration of drumming. While the authorities were making arrangements to conduct him to an asylum, Roro, who had already stated that his $7 would take him to New York- ‘and Paris’- characteristically stepped over to a drug counter and bought himself a pair of $5 sun-glasses."

Toyo gradually pieces together more information about Tiroro. We learn he participated at cultural events in the West Indies and the United States, was known as a spectacular showman, and appeared at some Haiti Week Concerts in New York in 1949. Max Roach, who saw Tiroro in New York in 1939, recounts how he learnt drumming from Tiroro, and through him, he believed, the essence and roots of black African culture, unpolluted by European culture. Another jazz great Archie Shepp invited Tiroro to record on his album with Family of Percussion in October 1980. However, Tiroro never made it as he died just before. After he died Tiroro was not forgotten to those whose lives he touched. Haiti’s Mini All Stars call out Tiroro’s name repeatedly during their song paying tribute to Haiti’s great senior musicians on their album Raraman’ recorded in 1986.

This album, probably the only CD available by Tiroro, was originally released from the Audi-Book label in Japan in 1994, before being repackaged and re-released in Japan on Rice Records. It is comprised from long deleted LPs, some of the recordings originally released as 78s. The recording dates are unclear but most range from the 1940s and 50s. The tracks on the first half of this CD are instrumental, while tunes that include Tiroro’s vocals are on the second half.

According to Toyo, his main concern in compiling this CD was to choose tracks that demonstrate the fantastic drumming of Tiroro. Many are simply of Tiroro playing solo, in his straightforward, no-holds-barred way. Toyo hopes listeners won't find these tracks monotonous, but they can be appreciated for their rhythms, deep grooves, and improvised musical phrases. As Toyo Nakamura concludes, "His playing is so awe inspiring, the rhythmical groove so perfect and soulful that mere words cannot do it justice. Exactly what it is, whether it’s his embellishments, such as fast rolls or appoggiature (sense of space and accents), or something else that I’m not even aware of, that makes me love Tiroro’s music so much, I cannot be sure."