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This article is about the musical genre. For the navigational instrument, see Compass. For other uses, see Compas (disambiguation).
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Compas (Haitian Creole: konpa) or kompa, is a modern méringue musical genre in Haiti with European and African roots.[1] The genre was popularized following the 1955 creation of the ban Conjunto International by Nemours Jean-Baptiste.[1] 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.[2][3][4]

Etymology and characteristics[edit]

Compas is short for compas direct in French. In Creole, it is spelled as konpa dirèk or simply konpa. It is commonly spelled as it is pronounced as kompa.[5]

The word “compás” in Spanish means “beat” or “rhythm,”[1] and one of the most distinctive characteristics of compas is the consistent pulsating beat tanbou, a trait common to many styles of Caribbean music.[1] Compas direct, literally means direct beat.[6]


Nemours Jean-Baptiste presented his “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.[7] Compas is sung in Creole,[8] 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.[9] Later Nemours became a favorite of Dominican president, Joaquín Balaguer who often contracted the band.[10] This is why hits like "Ti Carole", "Chagrin d'amour" featured by known Dominican stars Luis Miguel and others are also sung in Spanish.

In the late 1950s Nemours and the Sicot Brothers from Haiti would frequently tour the Caribbean, especially Curaceo, Aruba, St Lucia, Dominica and mostly the French Islands of Martinique & Guadeloupe to spread the seed of the méringue-cadence or compas.[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. Haitian compas or 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. Almost all existing Haitian compas bands have toured these Islands that have since adopted the music and the dance of the méringue.

Dance style[edit]

The dance-style that accompanied konpa dirèk in the 1950s, was a two step dance called kare (square).[12] As a méringue, a ballroom dance, compas 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.[13]

Mini-Jazz or small bands[edit]

During and after the US occupation, the word jazz has become synonymous with music bands in Haiti. So the mini-jazz is a reduced méringue-compas band. The movement started in the mid-1960s when young small neighborhood bands played konpa featuring paired electric guitars, electric bass, drum set-conga-cowbell; some use an alto sax or a full horn section, others use a keyboard, accordion[14] 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.[15] These young 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 1950s, however, guitar players such as Corvington (Les Corvington), Robert Martineau (Les Difficiles/Gypsies/Scorpio/Topvice...), Dadou Pasket (Tabou combo/Magnum Band), Jean Claude Jean (Tabou Combo/Super Star...), Serge Rosenthal (Shleu Shleu), Ricardo/Tiplum (Les Ambassadeurs)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.

Notable compas artists[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Hall, Michael R. (2012). Historical Dictionary of Haiti. p. 69. ISBN 9780810878105. Retrieved 2 December 2014. 
  2. ^ Manuel, Peter (2006). Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae (2nd edition). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 1-59213-463-7. 
  3. ^ Gage Averill (1997). Caribbean Current: A day for the hunter. A day for the prey. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. 
  4. ^ Peter Manuel, Musics of the Non-Western World, University Press 1988, p72-74
  5. ^ Wise, Brian. "Band's Haitian Fusion Offers Fellow Immigrants a Musical Link to Home". New York Times. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  6. ^ Stone, Michael. "FRoots Review". p. 55. Retrieved 2 December 2014. 
  7. ^ All Music Guide, compas direct
  8. ^ Haiti, Guadeloupe, Cabo Verde and others
  9. ^ Dominique Janvier, introduction on Nemour' album cover 1980, long vie to Nemours
  10. ^ Tambour Battant p85
  11. ^ All Music Guide 1994, compas direct
  12. ^ A Day for the Hunter, a Day for the Prey: Popular Music and Power in Haiti. Retrieved 20 March 2014. 
  13. ^ Peter Manuel, Popular Musics of the Non-Western World, Oxford University Press 1988: (Nemours Jean-Bapstiste adapted the méringue to mambo-style big band instrumentation and rhythmic patterns, coining the term compas direct for his innovation. For his part, Webert Sicot is credited with popularizing the rubric cadence for his similarly modernized meringue)
  14. ^ Peter Manuel, Jocelyne Guilbault and many more have spoken about the mini-jazz in their books
  15. ^ AMG 1994

External links[edit]