By Ashley Zimmerman
By Dana Krangel
By John Hood
By Ashley Zimmerman
By David Von Bader
By Sayre Berman
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Too much information? Not when you're talking about four of Haiti's biggest sex symbols. By posting their bedroom behaviors on their website, the members of T-Vice -- brothers Reynaldo and Roberto Martino, bassist Gerald Kebreau, and singer James Cardozo -- are just taking the guesswork out of fantasizing for thousands of fans. As one writer put it, "T-Vice is to Haitian music what 'NSync is to American pop."
So, is there any truth to the very personal 411? "Of course," Roberto says. He's the guitarist, and he "likes to wear briefs, admits that he is freaky in bed, and loves to be on the bottom." But that was posted a few years ago. Back then, he wanted a lady who would "make sure not to give him any pressure." Now, he has a serious girlfriend. Back then, he wanted to retire by age 30. Now 29, he wants to continue dominating the Caribbean music charts. Back then, he hoped to own a house. Did he get one yet? "Of course!" he says. "I have many houses in many places."
T-Vice's two choice cuts of sizzling man meat are the sons of Robert Martino, a guitarist best-known for playing in the bands Scorpio (in Haiti in the '70s) and Top Vice (in Miami in the '80s). When Roberto was 16 and Reynaldo was 13, they put a group together. Listeners dubbed them T-Vice, after their father's band, because "in Haiti, ti means small." Their dad chose his band name because at the time he founded it, "There was a very famous TV show," Roberto says, "called Miami Vice. "
Although Pops moved to Miami, Roberto hasn't forgotten his roots. "I grew up in Haiti," he says. "We are a Haiti-based band." And they play Haiti's distinctive music -- compas. Often spelled like it sounds, konpa or kompa is marked by a danceable, flamenco-influenced rhythm. Most of T-Vice's songs are in Creole, with smatterings of English.
When the band released its first album, Kompa Kontak, in 1994, the guys looked like Hall and Oates after getting slapped around by Debbie Gibson's wardrobe guy. But unlike those pop sensations, T-Vice evolved and kept its fan base intact. Lately, the group has kept the cash registers ringing by throwing hip-hop rhymes, reggae riddims, and samples of pop songs into the sonic mix. In Haiti, Roberto says, "If you sell 50,000 records, that's like going platinum." Their 2000 album, Min Medikaman-an (translation: "We're a Prescription" or "Here's Your Medicine"), sold 70,000 copies. Sales of their latest disc, Vice Time, hover around the 50,000 mark.
Their m.o.? "We use the Caribbean channels," Roberto explains, "to infiltrate every market that has a West Indian population -- especially Canada, Switzerland, New York City, Paris, and, of course, South Florida." Concerts have a guerrilla flavor: T-Vice shows are put on in rented hotel ballrooms; they jam on top of semitrucks during Carnival in Port-au-Prince. But they might be hijacked by the mainstream soon; they just recorded a song, "Party by the Sea," with Wyclef Jean and Buju Banton, and the video is airing on BET. Would they consider defecting to a major American label? Roberto gives his favorite answer: "Of course," if the deal were sweet enough.
This weekend, T-Vice plays at the Haitian Unity Festival; 2004 marks 200 years of Haitian independence. "It's about time we all get together for one cause," Roberto says. "[In Haiti], we have a culture that is so rich. Only the negative things are making the news, but... the Haitian people are very friendly."
Unless, of course, they're armed rebels or minions of some government honcho. "It is really dangerous down there to be involved in politics," Roberto says. "It's not like you have freedom of speech. As soon as you say your opinion, some people will love you, but others will set out to kill you. So I would rather play music and keep my opinions to myself."
Rabid groupies, be warned: If you're going to stalk Roberto at the festival, don't trust the website for information on how to spot his ride -- he drives a Range Rover now, not a BMW. And, oh yeah, about that claim that "he wants to not only produce but also own a studio and open a couple of supermarkets in Haiti"? He did open the studio -- called Vice 2K -- in Miami, but his future as a supermarket mogul is on hold. "I don't think it's the right time right now," he says. "But if, in the future, there is change and security, we would like to go back and invest." Of course.