Compas music

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Compas (konpa)
Stylistic origins Méringue
Cultural origins Mid 1950s, Haiti
Typical instruments Tanbou, Conga, Cowbell, Guitars, Keyboards, Horn section, Bass, drum, synthesizer
Derivative forms Cadence rampa, Zouk, Cadence-lypso, Coladeira, Kizomba, Kuduro, Soca
Fusion genres
Regional scenes
Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominica, French West Indies, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, France, Africa, Panama, Cape Verde, South America, North America, Portugal, Angola, Brazil
Music of Haiti
General topics
Related articles
Media and performance
Music awards Haitian Music Award
Music festivals Carnival
Nationalistic and patriotic songs
National anthem La Dessalinienne
Regional music

Compas, also known as Compas direct in French, or konpa dirèk in Creole or simply konpa is a modern méringue, the national music genre of Haiti that people have been dancing and singing since the 1800s. Popularized by Haitian sax and guitar player Nemours Jean-Baptiste in 1955, compas is the main music of many countries such as Dominica and the French Antilles, etc.[1] Whether it is incorrectly called zouk where French Antilles artists of Martinique and Guadeloupe have taken it[2] or compas in places where Haitian artists have toured, this méringue style is very influential in the Caribbean, Africa, Cape Verde, Portugal, France, part of Canada, South and North America.[3][4][5]


Compas direct is a modern méringue popularized in 1955 by the Nemours Jean Baptiste, a Haitian sax and guitar player. Nemours Jean-Baptiste presented his orchestra “Ensemble Aux Calebasses” in 1955 (named after the club “Aux Calebasses” located at Carrefour, a western neighborhood of Port-au-Prince; Haiti's capital where the band used to perform on weekends). Compas popularity took off likely due to the genre's ability to improvise and hold the rhythm section steady. Jean-Baptiste incorporated a lot of brass and easily recognized rhythms. Compas music is sung in Creole,[6] English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, etc.

Nemours' popularity grew in and out of the country. Its clean horn section was remarkable and the band featured méringue tunes that gained instant popularity. For example, in Martinique, several music groups: Ensemble Abricot (bienvenue, festival compas), les djoubap's (Isabelle), combo jazz (electronique compas, pa gadem sou cote), Georges Plonquitte (vini dance compas direct), etc. have all within a year conquered the public with the many tunes or compositions of Nemours.[7] Haitian compas and cadence bands were asked to integrate Antillean musicians. Consequently, the leading "Les Guais troubadours", with influential singer "Louis Lahens" along other bands, played a very important role in the schooling of Antilleans to the méringue compas or kadans music style. Later Nemours became a favorite of Dominican president, Joachim Ballaguer who often contracted the band. This is why hits like "ti Carole", "Chagrin d'amour" featured by known Dominican stars Luis Miguel and others are also sung in Spanish.

Dance style[edit]

The dance-style that accompanied konpa dirèk in the 1950's, was a two step dance called kare (square).[8] As a méringue, a ballroom dance, konpa is danced in pair. Sometimes partners dance holding each other tightly and romantically; in this case often most of the moves are made at the hips.


The Mini jazz movement started in the mid-1960s, small bands called mini-djaz (which grew out of Haiti’s light rock and roll yeye bands of the early 1960s) played konpa featuring paired electric guitars, electric bass, drumset and other percussion, often with a saxophone. This trend, launched by Shleu Shleu after 1965, came to include a number of groups from Port-au-Prince neighbourhoods, especially the suburb of Pétionville. Tabou Combo, Les Difficiles, Les Loups Noirs, Frères DéJean, Les Fantaisistes de Carrefour, Bossa Combo and Les Ambassadeurs (among others) formed the core of this middle-class popular music movement.

From 1968 to the 1970s prominent bands like Bossa Combo, les Shleu shleu, les Ambassadeurs, les Vickings, les fantaisistes, les Loups noirs, les Freres Dejean, les Difficiles, les Gypsies and mostly the majestic Tabou Combo have exerted a dominance on the Caribbean and many places in Europe and South America musical scene. For example, Tabou Combo has remained on the Paris hit parade for weeks with its "New York City" hit. Tabou did filled New York Central park in the same period. Guitar based mini-jazz like Les Difficiles and Gypsies influenced many flamenco artists. The guitar was the king instrument.

These young Haitian mini-jazz musicians were critical in the creation of new technics that contribute to the fancyness of the style. Although Raymond Guaspard (Nemours) had already started it in the 50s, however, guitar players such as Corvington (Les Corvington), Serge Rosenthal (Shleu shleu), Ricardo/Tiplum (Les ambassadeurs), Robert Martineau (Les Difficiles/Gypsies/Scorpio/Topvice...), Dadou Pasket (Tabou combo/Magnum band), Jean Claude Jean (Tabou combo/Super star...), Claude Marcellin (Les Difficiles/DP. Express/Zekle...), Police Nozile (Freres Dejean/DP. Express...) and many more have created intricate mostly rhythmic guitar styles that constitute a strong distinguishable feature of the méringue.

Cadence (kadans) in the Caribbean[edit]

Cadence rampa (also known as kadans ranpa[9] in creole or simply kadans) is a modern Haitian méringue, popularized by the virtuoso sax player Webert Sicot in the early 60s. Sicot left Nemours Jean-Baptiste compas music band and called his music cadence to differentiate it from konpa especially when he took it abroad, however, either one is the same modern méringue. Only rivalery between Sicot and Nemours created these names.[10]

As early as the late 50s Nemours and the Sicot Brothers from Haiti would frequently tour the Caribbean, especially Dominica and the French Islands of Martinique & Guadeloupe to spread the seed of the méringue-cadence[11]

Webert Sicot, the originator of cadence recorded three LPs albums with French Antilles producers: two with "Celini disques" in Guadeloupe and one with "Balthazar" in Martinique. In addition to the Sicot brothers, almost all existing Haitian compas bands have toured these Islands that have since adopted the music and the dance of the méringue.[12]


The most influential figure in the promotion of Cadence-lypso was the Dominican group Exile One (based on the island of Guadeloupe) that featured the Haitian kadans or compas music, the Trinidadian calypso, Dominica Cadence-lypso, and the Jamaican reggae[13]

Gordon Henderson, the band leader and founder coined the name "Cadence-lypso" in his full band that used a full-horn section and was the first to use the synthesizers in kadans. Many mini-jazz from Haiti and the French Antilles followed this format. Exile One take kadans to: Japan, the Indian Ocean, Africa, North America, Europe, The Cape Verde islands.

Compas nouvelle generation[edit]

In the mid 80's French Antilles kassav, which music repertoire is 90% compas music was the first in the Caribbean to apply the MIDI technology, already in use in pop and rock bands, to compas. In the late 80's, After Robert Charlot Raymonvil came out with Top Vice, young Haitian music groups applied the MIDI technology that reduced the band's size and offered a variety of new sounds. They were called compas nouvelle génération; however, most of them later, along with many other musicians in the world, went back to a full band with live instruments. The new generation was a moment of experiment with the MIDI technology. Popular new generation bands were Zin, Phantom, Lakole, Papash and a few more. Phantom was the first to return to a full band in less than two years while zin, lakol and papash have continued with the MIDI without a live horn section.

In the early 2000, several compas bands such as Carimi, T-Vice, Top Vice, and Zeglen toured the French Antilles as usual with success. The singer Vro who sang in duet with Robert Charlot on her album Softcore and many other Antillean artists have adopted this light compas style, which is more popular in France and the Caribbean. The compas' fine guitar lines with the chorus and other synthesizer effects is being heard now in zouk, the French Antilles compas music. For example, French Antilles singer Tanya St. Val who has collaborated with many great Haitian compas artists like Alan Cave, Dadou Pasket from the great Magnum band, etc. is very close to this style. The beauty of this is that these compas lands influence one another with nice chorus, guitar lines, female voices...within the team up of the conga-drum-cowbell.

Cape Verdean, Caribbean and African artists usually feature one another via compas songs. A review of several CDs from African, Cape Verdean, French Antilles and Haitian artists shows many similarities.

Méringue-compas music and its derivatives[edit]

Today the méringue compas, deeply rooted in many countries, has influenced many music styles and been called other names:


In Dominica, the same méringue called either cadence or compas introduced in the late 50's with the frequent tours of the Sicot brothers is often called cadence-lypso. Webert Sicot, the originator of cadance known for his great harmonic skills, was well appreciated in Guadeloupe. This is why the term cadence was more popular than the word compas.

Exile One, the leader of the word cadence-lypso, featured some reggae, calypso but mostly cadence music.[14] It is not sure whether the band's intent was to fusion Trinidadian calypso with Haitian cadence since little was done. The song "La Dominique" in the album "Exile One Old School Session" could be an attempt, however, not often repeated. Exile one music repertoire is mostly cadence with all the features of the style.[15] Of course the band had its personality; it was a great kadans band.

The tittle cadence-lypso is maintained mostly by the French Antilleans unable to find a basis for the zouk love origination. Although zouk is the French Antilles konpa, tracing its origination from cadence-lypso will validate it as different music style. Jeff Gordon used the word cadence-lypso "mizik a nou" in the song "cadence-lypso" to refer to a music where all Caribbean people would identify with. The truth is that there have been very few real cadence and calypso fusion. A limited number of kadans tunes with a calypso part are featured; one of them is (ou pati-grammacks). reggae and calypso tunes are also featured but the great majority tunes are kadans or konpa tunes; in fact the exile one song "cadence-lypso" is a konpa tune. The Djeasy "cadence-lypso best of the best mega mix" featuring 61 songs on youtube is a good example. Originally the word kadans was on the albums covers whether it's grammacks or exile one. They all featured calypso, reggae and mostly cadence. Grammacks: mideba (kadans), banana (sweet-kadans), ou pa bon, (kadans), ou pitit (kadans), reggae down, disco live (kadans), (midlay kadans 11/24/2011) Exile one: akiyaka, gade deye...(Midnight) get ready 1997, etc. are all kadans or konpa tunes.

This part is not to deny completely any attempt made to fusion cadence and calypso "cadence-lypso", the point here is that the great majority of the songs are either calypso, reggae or mostly kadans. If there is any fusion it should not be significant enough to be listed on album or CD covers, which would be confusing. Finally, cadence-lypso is danced as kadans or compas music.

Also, it is a fact that music bands from Haiti, the French Antilles, Dominica, Cape verde and others are great players of the méringue-compas style. Their contributions have led to the improvement of the style. Influential bands have existed in Haiti, Dominica, the French Antilles, Cape verde and other places. There is only one problem: The méringue has existed since the 1800s and before the frequent tours of Haitian bands to spread the seed of kadans or konpa in the Caribbean and elsewhere there was no such music. If a country received the music, dance and the coaching from Haitian bands who frequently toured their countries it make sense to give full credit to the style. Don't play the same music, rename it and take credit everywhere as your creation.

Some people tend to confound sound with music style. adding new technologies or new instruments doesn't necessarily change or create a style. Haitian have always had all types of bands: (late 1800s) brass bands and salon ensembles; (40s-60s) big méringue bands such as Jazz des Jeunes, Orchestre septan trional, ensemble Tropicana, orchestra El Sahe, Nemours Jean-Baptiste, Ensemble Webert Sicot, etc. with a big band format. (mid 60s to 70s) they had the mini-jazz, small guitar-based konpa bands. All of them were not guitar-based, however, Les ambassadeurs, les shleu slue, les loups noirs, les vickings, les fantaisists had either a sax or sax and keyboard. (70s-current) all types of band formats. Exile one didn't invent the horn section nor the synthesizer; it just happened to be the first one to use it and this motivated many bands to do the same thing. kassav was the first to fully apply the MIDI technology in konpa or kadans. later other bands from Africa and the Caribbean used it. It is not new music styles but technological innovation. However to be fair, these kadans or konpa bands were influential with great musicians who inspired within the style. Great kadans or konpa bands have served as inspiration: a few of them are The Sicot brothers, Nemours, Tabou Combo, DP express, les vickings, Les Freres Dejean, Ibo combo, Bossa combo, accolade, Jet-X, La perfecta, kassav, exile one, skah sha, Coupe cloue, Tito Paris, Tropicana, etc. Finally, all the players have made great contribution to the méringue style.


Originally zouk béton, the only zouk style created is a fast carnival jump up beat. A mix of gwo ka, tambour bélé, ti bwa, on a steady monotonous bass with the full use of the MIDI technology, which lost ground in the late 80s. While French Antilleans and Dominicans are important players of the meringue-compas or cadence style, however, musicians from Martinique and Guadeloupe have erroneously labeled compas music as zouk creating a big confusion in Africa, Cape Verde, Angola, even Portugal and other places. Actually since the late 80s zouk béton has faded away[16] French Antilles kassav, its originator, is a superb compas music band that has taken compas to many places in Africa, France, Portugal, Cape Verde, Angola and others.


From the 80's one can notice the strong compas music influence in Cape Verdean music. Cape Verdeans have been exposed to compas in the USA and France where they adopted the styles. In addition, French Antillean artists whose main music is compas toured the island to spray the seed. Many Cape Verdean artists feature compas music. A good example is The talented Tito Paris who produced several CDs. "danca mami Criola" 1994, is a good compas CD close to Tabou combo, kassav, Caribbean Sextet, Exile One, Tropicana, etc. Today the new generation of Cape Verdean artists features a light compas close to Haitian and French Antillean konpa:


Kizomba is a popular music from Angola. It is a derivative of traditional Angolan semba with the French Antilles compas music. Although most music came from Africa, however, Angola has been receiving Haitian influence for years. For instance, great méringue queen Haitian Martha Jean-Claude has lent her voice and music to the Angolan revolution; she came with the Cuban troups.[17]

During the 70s, Haitian bands such as Coupe cloue, bossa combo, Dp Express and Dominican bands such as Exile One and Grammacks were popular in Africa. During the 80s-90s, French Antilles Kassav has toured the country with its fast zouk béton and mostly compas music leaving great influence. Lately, kizomba has been close to French Antilles and Cape verdian light compas music and sung generally in Portuguese. No wonder why kizomba shows that strong similarity with méringue compas.[18]


Etymology and characteristics[edit]

Also known as compas direct in French, or konpa direk in Creole or simply konpa is a modern méringue (mereng in Creole). It is often incorrectly spelled as kompa when translating from French to Haitian Creole, as there is no m in front of a b or p like in French and some other languages and therefore an n is used instead.[19]

The word “compás” in Spanish means “beat” or “rhythm,” and one of the most distinctive characteristics of compas music is the consistent pulsating beat tanbou, a trait common to many styles of Caribbean music. Compas music is easy and fun to dance to, incorporating musical traditions like méringue, which propel dancers around the floor with lively, active beats (though compas has a slower beat and dance than méringue). You may hear the notes of Compas music in a community of Haitian immigrants anywhere in the world, and where there is compas, dancers are usually not far behind. Compas / Konpa is a genre of music that is emulated throughout the Caribbean and parts of Africa. In North America, compas festivals take place frequently in Montreal, New York, Miami, Boston and Orlando.

Notable compas or méringue artists[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ All Music Guide/Latin music, Tropical, compas
  2. ^ Peter Manuel, Musics of the Non western World, University Press p74, 1988
  3. ^ Peter Manuel, Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae, 2nd edition, Temple University Phila 2006
  4. ^ Gage Averill, A day for the Hunter, a day for the Pray, University of Chicago Press, 1997
  5. ^ Peter Manuel, Musics of the Non-Western World, University Press 1988, p72-74
  6. ^ Haitian, French Antilles, Cape verde
  7. ^ Dominique Janvier, introduction on Nemour' album cover 1980, long vie to Nemours
  8. ^ A Day for the Hunter, a Day for the Prey: Popular Music and Power in Haiti. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  9. ^ Manuel, Peter with Kenneth Bilby, Michael Largey (2006). Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae. p. 161. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  10. ^ Pintade, Wikipedia editor, 2010
  11. ^ Pintade, Wikipedia 2010
  12. ^ Dominique Janvier, introduction in Nemours' Album cover 1980, long vie to Nemours
  13. ^ By Paul Crask. "Zouk -Dominica". The Dominican. Reprinted from National Geographic. Retrieved August 10, 2010. 
  14. ^ Album "Exile one - Gordon Henderson 40 volume 1" features 14 kadans out of 18 tunes. 1. Rosita 2. ba yo boi 3. jumbolo 4. jamais voir ca (calypso tune) 5. reflexion 6. n'homme ka batte n'homme 7. gadez deye 8. ah ta ta 9. Ico vole 10. pompilili 11. aki yaka 12. vivent les vacances aux antilles (calypso tune) 13. Ilyne (calypso tune) 14. nous travail pou ayen 15. cadence lypso 16. sexile 17. come here (reggae tune) 18. interlude. The song cadence lypso is a kadans tune. A third album "Collector kadance lypso" features twelve méringue cadence tunes. The album also features tunes from other kadans bands: 2. Rigrete (Midnight Groover), Serpent la (C Top 6), la vie vini plus raid (Belles combo) 9. Coq et perroquet (Liquid Ice) 12. mwen di ou fe (Black Affairs) 7. Chanson d'amour Ophelia (Exile one)
  15. ^ The album "Exile one-Old school Session: Gree/Vert" features mostly méringue cadence or compas: 6 out of 8 tunes. 1) fete commune 2) torti 3) famille Creole 4) d'leau 5) sauvez riviere la and 7) Sylvie
  16. ^ Zouk has become indistinguishable from compas music. Peter Manuel: Popular Musics of the Non-Western World,p74, Oxford University Press 1988
  17. ^ Martha Jean Claude bio. Born on March 21, 1919 in Port-au-Prince, Martha Jean Claude was an actress, dancer, singer, writer, compositor, philanthropist, an activist and perhaps the most respected Haitian artist in the international scene. Martha Jean Claude was very successful from the beginning of her career, due to her extremely beautiful voice and the deep connection she had with the people through her folkloric and voodoo lyrics. An avid speaker against the abuse of the masses by authorities, led to her arrest in 1952, under then President Paul Eugene Magloire, after the publication of one of her play "Anriette", which officials deemed to be against the government. She got imprisoned while pregnant. Had she not been released when she did, she would have given birth in jail, because just 2 days after her release, her first child was born. fearing for her life, Martha Jean Claude exiled to Cuba on December 20, 1952, joining her husband, Victor Marabal, a Cuban Journalist whom she had met in Venezuela at one of her concert, prior to her incarceration. Martha was already known in the Spanish speaking community, and her fame just risen even more. She went on tho make appearance on many TV and Radio show in Cuba. In 1957, she flew to Mexico to star in a movie alongside the well famous Cuban-Mexican actress, Ninon Sevilla, today considered one of the greatest artist in Cuba. She achieved great success and even became a producer at a Mexican TV station, all within just a year. She would return to Cuba the following year, and became a member of the very respected: "Cuban Union of Writers and Artists" while continuing her very successful singing career; she performed at some of the world most famous stages. Palais des beaux-Arts in Paris, Madison Square Garden in New York City, Casas de Las Americas in Cuba, Maison de L'UNESCO in Paris, United Nation Headquarter in New York City; Salle Claude Campagne: The Faculty of Music at the Montreal University and countless of other famous venues throughout the world. She toured most of the Spanish America and Many African countries, including Angola, which was going through one of the bloodiest civil war at the time. An activist voice was needed, and Martha Jean Claude was well known for her fiery political songs in not only Haiti, but also Cuba and even Panama. She lent her motherly voice to the revolution and was welcomed with great enthusiast by the Angolan population.
  18. ^ A review of many kizomba tunes has shown a very strong similarity , even too much with méringue compas music. Kizomba all stard; o4 Nta Amado (Neusa) 02 Nha Joya (Nichol) Kizomba Benefica: 1 Sexual Healing slan 3 Ameyatchiki (Mathey 4 Cherie mon amour/Manulima & Mark G remix (Gilsemedo) 6 Voce Vai ver (Feat. Juka) kizomba Brasil Juka kizomba hits vol 2. 7 Pause kizomba Axel Tony Pause kizomba 8 Heven (Mark G; s kizomba remix) Kaysha Bailar kizomba Sushiraw 11 Real Peu pen kizomba Bruno Pereira Danca de verao kizomba 12 Heaven remix 13 kizomba de roda DJ christiano 15 Samora kizomba Bruno Pereira danca de verao kizomba 17 Eu Sei (Eeat Helvio) kizomba Brasil Helvio kizomba hits vol2 21 Soho 2012 remix light ou DJ Usidora kizomba Afro Latino 24 A Cabeca Doi kizomba Exitos vol 1 30OH fala Bem kizomba exitos vol 1 36 Mal acostumado feat Mikas Cabral kizomba Brasil ke vo2 39 Sonho A Dois Kizomba Grandes exitos de Brasil vol 2 42 Velha infancia Mikas Cabral, Neusa kizomba Brasil viva kizomba-flamkim ta sta Sempre Kaysha kizomba life 17 Musiquarian feat Jacob Desvarieux Keysha 19 Acabeca Doi, etc. are real méringue-compas music. A review of "Zekle", a powerful Haitian méringue band of the 80s and most compas music band from Haiti or the French Antilles will further show that kizomba is in fact strongly influenced by méringue compas music
  19. ^ "Haitian Creole-English Dictionary with Basic English-Haitian Creole Appendix". Retrieved 6 March 2014. 
  • Manuel, Peter (2006). Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae (2nd edition). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 1-59213-463-7. 
  • Experience Haitian music on Mizikpam Internet Radio Accessed May 18, 2010
  • Gage Averill (1997). Caribbean Current: A day for the hunter. A day for the prey. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.