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Stylistic origins Jazz, Méringue-Compas
Cultural origins Mid 1960's, Haiti
Typical instruments Drum, Tanbou, Conga, Cowbell, Guitars, Keyboards, Horn section, modern Synthesizer, Bass
Regional scenes
Haiti, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominica, French West Indies, North America
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

Mini-jazz, also spelled mini-djaz in Creole is a reduced méringue-compas music band of the mid-60s characterized by the rock bands formula of two guitars, one bass, drum-conga-cowbell, some use an alto sax or a full horn section, others use a keyboard, accordion or lead guitar. However, all these small jazz or bands had their guitars with sophisticated styles.

From Haiti the mini-jazz formula replicated in the French Antilles in the 1970s. By the mid 70s the mini-jazz became normal bands with more musicians.


While méringue remained a popular dance form for Haitians well into the twentieth century, other musical forces made their influence felt in Haitian music. American big bands gained popularity in Haiti in the early twentieth century due to the presence of U.S. Marines from 1915 to 1934, the presence of radio, and the back-and-forth travel of elite Haitians to France. Haitian bands incorporated Jazz from the Americans into their repertoires, performing popular tunes for American as well as Haitian audiences. One Haitian president, Pierre Nord Alexis, was so fond of the "new American" style that he hired Fond Dabney, the popular American jazz-band leader, in 1904 for a three-year stint as an official musical adviser to the Haitian presidential band. After the American invasion of Haiti in 1915, some Haitians viewed the popularity of music from the United States as a threat to the vitality of Haitian music, specifically the méringue. While Haitians in the countryside formed resistance militias to repel the American Marines, elite Haitians, located mostly in urban areas, chose to show their displeasure with the American occupation with forms of "cultural resistance," including music, dance, literature, and visual arts. Rejecting the culture of the invading Americans as vulgar and uncouth, some Haitian intellectuals recommended turning to the rural roots of Haitian culture-specifically, the Vodou religious ritual. The Haitian physician, ethnographer, and politician Jean Price-Mars wrote Ainsi parla l'oncle (So Spoke the Uncle) in 1928, exhorting Haitians to explore the folktales, music and religion of the working rural masses. Price-Mars believed that research into the folklore of the Haitian countryside could inspire a national artistic movement that would challenge European domination of aesthetic judgment. There were several musical responses to Price-Mars's call for national Haitian music. Classical composers like Justin Elie, Ludovic Lamothe, and Werner Jaegerhuber wrote orchestral and chamber music using either Vodou melodies or tunes inspired by Haitian religious ritual. Others, like the leaders of popular dance bands, introduced the drum, scraper (guaj), and melodies from the Vodou ceremony into a big-band format. Perhaps the most famous of these "vodou-jazz" groups was Jazz des Jeunes (Youth Jazz), which used Vodou rhythms such as the kongo, ibo, and yanvalou in musical arrangements that were based on dance-band formats. Teamed up with singer Lumane Casimir, Jazz des Jeunes cultivated a sound and look that appealed to the Haitian public; band members dressed in "folklore" garb of colorful cloth, while dancers moved to the Vodou-influenced rhythms. Jazz des Jeunes was also active in the promotion of a "noirist," or pro-black, political platform in support of Dumarsais Estimé, the first dark-skinned Haitian president who was not a puppet of the light-skinned Haitian elite. In addition, folklore dance became popular in the 1940s as elite Haitians reconsidered their relationship to cultural practices influenced by Vodou.[1]


The Mini-jazz movement started in the mid-1960s, small bands called mini-djaz (which grew out of Haiti’s light rock and roll bands that were called 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.

Young Haitian musicians of these mini-jazz or small bands were critical in the technical improvement of the compas style. Although Raymond Guaspard (Nemours) started it, however, popular and talented guitar players such as Ricardo Tiplum (Les ambassadeurs), Robert Martineau (Les Difficiles/Les Gypsies/Scorpio Universel/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/Gypsies/DP Express) and many more have created intricate, mostly rhythmic guitar styles that constitute a strong distinguishable feature of the méringue (compas or cadence).

French Antilles influence[edit]

Main article: Cadence-lypso

In the early 70's, The Dominican band Exile One led by the talented Gordon Henderson introduced a full-horn section and was the first to use the synthesizers to their music that other young cadence or compas bands from Haiti (mini-jazz) and the French Antilles emulated in the 1970s. Exile One was copied by bands from all over and most of all from the island of Dominica. In Haiti, two of the most popular bands, Les Difficiles de Pétionville became D.P Express and Les Gypsies became Scorpio Universel after adding a full horn section in addition to their new keyboard synthesizer.

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 to compas, already in use by Antillean bands. In the late 80's, After Robert Charlot Raymonvil came out with Top Vice, young Haitian music groups applied the MIDI technology that in addition to the synthesizers reduce the band's size and offered a variety of new sounds. They were called nouvelle generation; however, most of them later, along with many other musicians in the world, went back to a full band with live instruments.

Post mini-jazz[edit]

In the mid 70s the mini-jazz went back to the big band formula with a horn section. However, méringue troubadour bands such as Coupe Cloue (Gesner Henry), Rodrigue Millien, Toto Necessite, Althiery Dorival by nature have always performed without a horn section. Other heavy méringue bands such as Orchestre Tropicana, Septan trional, Les Freres Dejean, Bossa Combo, Meridional, La ruche de Leogane, Panorama des Cayes, etc. have always used a horn section and keyboard.

Les Ambassadeurs, les legendaires, Ibo combo, Les Freres Dejean, Bossa combo were all full bands with keyboards and horn section. They were classified as mini-jazz because they were born in the same time but were all full bands from their creation. The majestic Tabou combo started with a guitar-based and accordion format and later adapted to new technology like every other bands.


During 1975 -1986 the méringue-compas reached its zenith. Artists from many countries were featuring compas hits. Among the most copied and played were Exile One, Kassav, Tabou Combo and DP Express. This trend continues till now. For example many merengue artists such as Wilfrido Vargas, Bonny Cepeda, reggaeton stars Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, the Fugees, Carlos Santana, Cabo Verde artists, and others, have all featured compas tunes. Music groups such as Djet-X, Skah Sha #1, Grammacks, Magnum band, Exile One, Tabou Combo, Kassav, Coupe Cloue, DP Express, Freres Dejean, Scorpio, Tropicana, Volo Volo, Bossa Combo, and System Band were all popular bands that dominated the music scene. The Caribbean and specifically the compas lands of Dominica and the French Antilles are ideal destinations for these bands. Large cities of North and South America are also good destinations. Africa received its share of compas through many countries. Today compas music is popular more than ever throughout the world with bands from the Caribbean, Africa, Cabo Verde, part of South and North America, and Europe.


After the American occupation of Haiti, bands were called jazz. So these small bands of the 60s were called mini-jazz.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Manuel, Peter with Kenneth Bilby, Michael Largey (2006). "Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae". p. 158-159. Retrieved 28 January 2014.