When you think of Shak Shah #1, one individual who stands apart from everyone in the band is Jean Elie Telfort a.k.a Cubano or the God father of Compas. Jean Elie Telfort’s majestic voice has captivated audiences from all over Haiti, New York, the French Caribbean and Europe. Undeniably, Shak Shah has had an immensurable impact in the Haitian music industry. In fact, one cannot speak of compas (konpa) legacy without referring to Shak Shah’s contributions to the music. Shak Shah the band was known for versatile vocalizing, superior songwritings, and having a harmonious horn section. The group also displayed brilliance in making other people’s compositions their own. Shak Shah’s discography is a rich collection of warm, soulful creole music, mixed with Afro-Cuban and meringue, including one of compas’ greatest song ” Haiti” and other classic songs like “Caroline”, ” Ozanna”, “sentiment”.
Unquestionably, Jean Elie Telfort, a gifted vocalist, was one of the forces behind Shak Shah’s success in the 70′s, 80′s, and 90′s, which was then the flourishing peak of Compas (konpa) music in Haiti. There may have been other singers who were more popular, or equally skilled, but no other Haitian singer has been so influential on the course of popular Haitian music in the last three decades. Cubano’s influence has only grown in the 21st century. His throaty howls and his vocal technique has been copied by singers who came after him.
Cubano was a teenager in the summer of 1964, when Gerald Dupervil (one of the biggest star in the 60′s and 70′s) and his band Riverside came to Port-De-Paix to perform for the town’s annual party (fete Patronage). By chance Riverside’s bass player was unable to make the trip and Cubano’s music instructor urged him to approach Dupervil to fill the void. After several hours of rehearsals, Cubano managed to play the bass flawlessly and efficiently for the band. This experience would become perhaps the most important influence on the young dreamer musical career. Despite his success, Cubano still maintained his focus to stay in school.
After attending high school for three years at “Notre Dame De Lourdes” of Port-de-Paix, Cubano moved to Port-Au-Prince in 1967 to complete his studies at “Lycee Petion. Soon after, Cubano enrolled at Crane Institution where he earned a degree in accountancy in 1969. Between 1965 and 1969 Cubano traveled back and forth from Port-au- Prince to his home town. Each and every summer, Cubano played organized soccer with his peers while remaining a faithful choir vocalist with his local church. Soon his passion for singing gave way to the formation of a small youthful band known as “Pearl Des Antilles” which featured his schoolmates and childhood friend Roge M.Eugene (Tabou Combo lead singer), Jean Alcindor, Max Maurin, and Michel Jardotte. .
CUBANO’S SECOND BIG BREAK – In 1967, Cubano received a letter from his friend Roge M. Eugene a.k.a Shoubou informing him that Shleu-Shleu was looking for a lead singer. The next day Cubano boarded a bus to Port-au-Prince just to take part in the auditioning process that was being held by the group.
Shleu Shleu maestro was marveled by Cubano charisma and vocal skills; (and Cubano’s musical career began as such). Within a few months Cubano established himself as a monarch in Haitian music. His voice can be heard at the pinnacle of La Citadel (Haiti greatest monument). From the moment he sang Haiti “toup pou yo” – the famous Haitian soccer anthem of the national soccer team (Emmanuel Sannon, Thompous, Philip Vobe) that made it to the World Cup to Munik Germany 1970– Cubano came of age as a singer and indisputably established himself as one of the premier singers of Compas music .
In 1973, Cubano, the godfather of compas, left Haiti to begin a new journey in New York. While studying Computer science at Queens College, Cubano teamed up with Arsene Appolon, Loubert Chancy, Johnny Frantz Toussaint, Mario Malaya and Georges Fancis to launch one of the most successful compas bands in that era, Skah-Shah. The group performed for the first time in July 29, 1974 at the Malibu Night Club in New York.
As the group’s appeal broadened in the 70′s, Arsene Appollon left in 1976 to form Skah-Shah D’Haiti. Cubano became more of a leader for the group. He helped to steer Skah-shah #1 in the right the direction. The group eventually recorded several hit albums from 1973 until the original group’s dissolution in 1992.
Many people thought that was the end of Skah-Shah # 1 and Cubano. Jean Elie telfort was determined not to watch his dream fade away. By the 1990′s “Nouvel Generation konpa,” a popular new trend in Haitian music was in full swing. Neither Compas Direct nor Shak Shah was very appealing to a new generation of Haitian but Cubano was not discouraged by the lack of interest in compas to re-introduce Shah Shah to the general public. He defiantly revitalized Shak Shah in 1993 by bringing younger and more talented musicians. These musicians were Marc Arios (one of the premier konpa guitar player), Yves Abel, Welmir Jean Pierre, and veteran musician Richard Durosseau (a sharp and fierce pianist and accordionist who played with Nemours Jean Baptiste),Camille Armand (1974), Claude Degrottes, Claudy Aladin.