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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. Whether it is incorrectly called zouk where French Antilles artists of Martinique and Guadeloupe have taken it 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.[1][2][3][4]


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 is sung in Creole,[5] 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.

Cadence rampa (also known as kadans ranpa[6] 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's compas 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.[7]

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[8] In the French Antilles, kadans is the creole term for cadence rampa/cadence, while in Dominica it is called cadence-lypso.

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.[9] 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.[10] 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, Joaquín Balaguer 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 1950s, was a two step dance called kare (square).[11] 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.[1]


Main article: Mini-jazz

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, Les 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.[1]

These young (Haitian mini-jazz) musicians were critical in the creation of new technics that contribute to the fanciness 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/D.P. Express/Zèklè...), Police Nozile (Les Frères Déjean/D.P. Express...) and many more have created intricate mostly rhythmic guitar styles that constitute a strong distinguishable feature of the méringue.[1]

Méringue-compas and its derivatives[edit]

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


Webert Sicot, the originator of cadence known for his great virtuosity, mostly harmonic skills, was well appreciated in the Caribbean. This is why the term cadence was more popular than compas. Cadence-lypso is the Dominican kadans.

Cadence and calypso were the two dominant styles in Dominica hence the name cadence-lypso. The great majority of the songs are either calypso, reggae and mostly cadence or compas. If there is any fusion it should not be significant enough to be listed on album or CD covers. Finally cadence-lypso is danced the same way as compas.

Originally the word cadence or kadans was on album covers whether it's grammacks or exile one. They featured calypso, reggae and mostly cadence. [12]

Exile One, the leader of the word cadence-lypso, featured some reggae, calypso and mostly cadence music.[13] It is not sure whether the band's intent was to fusion Trinidadian calypso with Haitian cadence or compas since little was done. The song "La Dominique" in the Album "Exile One Old School Session" could be an attempt, however, not often repeated. The band music repertoire is mostly cadence or compas with all the features of the style.[14] of course the band had its personality; it was a great kadans band.

Exile one was the first kadans band to introduce the newly arrived synthesizer that some young guitar-based cadence or compas bands from Haiti (mini-jazz) and the French Antilles would use in the 1970s. Exile One exported kadans music to many places: Japan, the Indian Ocean, Africa, North America, Europe, The Cape Verde islands.

Other cadence bands included the Grammacks,[15] Black Roots, Black Machine, Naked Feet, Belles Combo, Mantra, Black Affairs, Liquid Ice, Wafrikai, Midnighte Groovers and Milestone, while the most famous singers included Bill Thomas, Chubby Marc, Gordon Henderson, Linford John, Janet Azouz, Sinky Rabess, Tony Valmond, Jeff Joseph, Mike Moreau and Anthony Gussie. Ophelia Marie is a popular singer of cadence in the 1980s.


In the 70s with the frequent tours of the Sicot brothers, Exile One, and so many meringue bands, compas or cadence rampa as become very influential in several parts of the world, specifically the Caribbean. Its influence on the calypso gave rise to Soca, closer to cadence or compas.[16]

The calypsonian Lord Shorty of Trinidad was the first to really define his music and with "Indrani" in 1973 and "Endless Vibration" (not just the song but the entire album) in 1975, calypso music really took off in another direction. Later in 1975 Lord Shorty visited his good friend Maestro in Dominica where he stayed (at Maestro's house) for a month while they visited and worked with local cadence or compas artists. You had Maestro experimenting with calypso and cadence. Sadly a year later Maestro would die in an accident in Dominica and his loss was palpably felt by Shorty, who penned "Higher World" as a tribute. In Dominica, Shorty had attended an Exile One performance of kadans, and collaborated with Dominica's 1969 Calypso King, Lord Tokyo and two calypso lyricists, Chris Seraphine and Pat Aaron in the early 1970s, who wrote him some Creole lyrics. Soon after Shorty released a song, "Ou Petit", with words like "Ou dee moin ou petit Shorty" (meaning "you told me you are small Shorty"). Soca's development includes calypso, cadence/compas, and Indian musical instruments—particularly the dholak, tabla and dhantal—as demonstrated in Shorty's classic compositions "Ïndrani" and "Shanti Om".


Zouk is a fast carnival jump up beat of rhythmic music originating from the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, popularized by the French Antilles kassav in the 1980s. Music authors Charles De Ledesma and Gene Scaramuzzo trace its development to the Guadeloupean gwo ka and Martinican bélé (tambour and ti bwa) traditions.

Zouk beton or Zouk was a brief experiment; an attempt to develop a proper local music that would lessen or even eradicate the meringue-kadans or compas influence from the French Antilles of Guadeloupe and Martinique. When the MIDI technology came out, kassav used it fully creating new sound in both their fast zouk beton and mostly compas. The Antilleans have been since all over with zouk, but as other bands from the Caribbean and Africa added the MIDI technology to their music people got used to it. Because it was a jump up beat the fast zouk beton faded away in the same 80s and Antilleans would continue to play and dance meringue-compas or cadence. After all French Antilleans and Dominicans are important players of the style. The problem is that musicians from Guadeloupe and Martinique have intentionally labeled meringue-compas as zouk in order to survive; creating a big confusion in Africa, Cabo verde, Angola, Brazil, Portugal and other places. French Antilles kassav, the originator of the zouk beton is a superb compas band that has taken compas to several places.[17]

Today, zouk's originator French Antilles' Kassav' is the only band that includes it in its repertoire to a lesser extent. Too fast, the style lost ground in the same 80s due to the strong presence of kadans or compas, the main music of the French Antilles.

Today, zouk is the French Antilles compas.[18]


From the 80s one can notice the strong compas influence in Cape Verdean music. Cape Verdeans artists have been exposed to konpa in the USA and France. During the 70s-80s Haitian artists and bands such as Claudette & Ti Pierre, Tabou Combo and mostly Gesner Henry alias Coupe Cloue and the Dominican group Exile One were very popular in Africa. In addition, the French Antilles kassav and other French Antillean musicians, which main music is compas toured Cabo island in various occasions. Many Cape Verdean artists feature compas. Talented Tito Paris "dança mami Criola" 1994, is a good example; this CD featured music close to Haiti Tabou Combo, Caribbean Sextet, Tropicana and French Antilles Kassav', etc.[19] Today the new generation of Cape Verdean artists features a light compas close to Haitian and French Antillean.


Kizomba is a popular music from Angola. It is a derivative of traditional Angolan samba with the French Antilles compas. Although most music came from Africa, Angola has been receiving Haitian influence for years. For instance, great meringue queen, Haitian Martha Jean-Claude lent her voice and music to the Angolan revolution; she came with the Cuban troops.[20] During the 70, Haitian bands and artists such as Coupe Cloue, Tabou Combo, Bossa combo, DP Express and Dominican bands like Exile One and Grammacks were popular in Africa. During the 80s-90s, French Antilles Kassav has toured the country with its compas, leaving influence. Lately, kizomba has been close to French Antilles and Cape Verdian light compas and sung generally in Portuguese. No wonder why kizomba shows that strong similarity with meringue-compas.[21]

MIDI technology: New generation or light compas[edit]

The new generation was a moment of experiment with the MIDI technology.[1] In the mid 80s French Antilles Kassav', whose music repertoire is 90% compas, 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 pianist/keyboard wizard 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 Cavé, 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.

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.[22]

The word “compás” in Spanish means “beat” or “rhythm,” and one of the most distinctive characteristics of compas is the consistent pulsating beat tanbou, a trait common to many styles of Caribbean music. Compas 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 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. ^ a b c d e Pintade, Wikipedia editor
  2. ^ Peter Manuel, Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae, 2nd edition, Temple University Phila 2006
  3. ^ Gage Averill, A day for the Hunter, a day for the Pray, University of Chicago Press, 1997
  4. ^ Peter Manuel, Musics of the Non-Western World, University Press 1988, p72-74
  5. ^ Haitian, French Antilles, Cape Verde
  6. ^ Manuel, Peter with Kenneth Bilby, Michael Largey (2006). Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae. p. 161. Retrieved 8 March 2014. 
  7. ^ Pintade, Wikipedia editor, 2010
  8. ^ Pintade, Wikipedia 2010
  9. ^ Dominique Janvier, introduction in Nemours' Album cover 1980, long vie to Nemours
  10. ^ Dominique Janvier, introduction on Nemour' album cover 1980, long vie to Nemours
  11. ^ A Day for the Hunter, a Day for the Prey: Popular Music and Power in Haiti. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  12. ^ Grammacks: mediba (kadans), banana (sweet kadans), ou pa bon, (kadans), ou pitit (kadans), reggae down, disco live (kadans) this same tune is categorized as zouk retro by Deejay Zak (midlay kadans 11/24/2011) Exile one: akiyaka, gade deye...(Midnight) get ready 1997, etc.
  13. ^ 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)
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ Most of these bands featured separated calypso, reggae and cadence tunes. Review Exile one CD 40 anniversary, Grammack collection 74-76 and others available at amazon music
  16. ^ Pintade, Wikipedia editor
  17. ^ Pintade, Wikipedia editor
  18. ^ Peter Manuel, Musics of the Non-Western World, Chicago press University 1988p74
  19. ^ Pintade, Wikipedia
  20. ^ Martha Jean-Claude, another side of Haiti, retrieved September 4, 2014
  21. ^ 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
  22. ^ "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.