“Certain songs have the power to overthrow a government,” Haitian president and musician Michel Martelly remarked on the eve of Carnival 2013, evoking a long-standing tradition of musical dissent in Haitian politics. The historic role of popular Creole-language songs in the political life of the country has been noted by twentieth-century ethnomusicologists and historians, yet a comprehensive musical “folk history of Haiti” (Harold Courlander) is inexistent, with much of the music of the revolutionary nineteenth century altered or lost through processes of oral transmission and politicized rewritings. This essay proposes an “archaeological” approach to Haitian Creole popular music through the lyrics of several lost Haitian songs of the 1840s and 1850s, recently rediscovered in a Paris archive. While Haitian popular music is inherently engaged in a process of constant evolution, this historical snapshot of archived Creole songs gives us a unique and complementary perspective on music and politics in the nineteenth century.

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