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Compas Direct (French pronunciation: ​[kɔ̃pa]; Haitian Creole: konpa) is a modern méringue dance music of Haiti.[1] The genre was popularized following the creation of Ensemble Aux Callebasses in (1955), which became Ensemble Nemours Jean-Baptiste In 1957. The frequent tours of the many Haitian bands have cemented the style in all the Caribbean. Therefore, compas is the main music of several countries such as Dominica and the French Antilles.[2] Whether it is 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 influential in part of [3] the Caribbean, Portugal, Cape Verde, France, part of Canada, South and North America.[4][5][6]

Etymology and characteristics[edit]

The word "Compas" means "measure" in Spanish or "rhythm,"[1] and one of the most distinctive characteristics of compas is the consistent pulsating tanbou beat, a trait common to many styles of Caribbean music.[1] Compas Direct (which is a Trade Mark registered in the United States by Nemours Jean-Baptiste’s heirs Dr Yves Jean -Baptiste and Mrs. Yvrose Jean-Baptiste) translates as direct beat.[7] In Creole, it is spelled konpa[8] though it is most popularly spelled with an "m" instead of an "n". However, there is no M before B and P in Creole. Therefore kompa does not fit in any language. In addition, one only has to consult the discography of the Nemours Jean-Baptiste to ascertain the original spelling of his work which gave birth to Kizomba and Zouk.


Mini-jazz and 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.[citation needed] The movement started in the mid-1960s when young small neighborhood bands played compas featuring paired electric guitars, electric bass, drum set-conga-timbales and 2 cowbells, 1 for the timbales and the other to be played with the floor tom ; some use an alto sax or a full horn section, others use a keyboard, accordion[9][not specific enough to verify] This trend, launched by Shleu-Shleu after 1965, came to include a number of groups from Port-au-Prince neighbourhoods, especially the suburb of Pétion-Ville. Les Corvington, 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.[citation needed]

These young musicians were critical in the creation of new technics that contribute to the fanciness[to whom?] of the style. Although Raymond Gaspard (Nemours) had already started it in the 1950s, however, guitar players such as Michel Corvington (Les Corvington), Henry Celestin (founder of Les Difficiles de Pétion Ville), Robert Martino (Les Difficiles/Gypsies/Scorpio/Topvice...), Dadou Pasket (Tabou combo/Magnum Band), Jean Claude Jean (Tabou Combo/Super Star...), Serge Rosenthal (Shleu-Shleu), Hans Felix, (Les Ambassadeurs/Volo Volo de Boston), 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.[citation needed]

Nemours Jean-Baptiste[edit]

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). At the beginning (1955), Ensemble ‘Aux Callebasses‘ Of Nemours Jean-Baptiste played rhythms such as Cuba's Guaracha and Cha Cha Cha as well as Haiti's Bannann Pouyak, Grenn Moudong, and Méringue Lente. In 1957, Nemours Jean-Baptiste -with the assistance of conga player Kreudzer Duroseau ans accordionist Richard Duroseau- created compas which has its roots in Haitian traditional Meringue and the Vodou traditional rhythms. Its popularity took off likely due to the genre's ability to improvise and hold the rhythm section steady and the facility with which dancers could absorb, feel and express the new rhythm. Nemours Jean-Baptiste incorporated a lot of brass and, in 1958, the first electric guitar in Haitian urban dance music.[10] Compas is sung in Creole,[11] English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Nemours' popularity grew in and out of the country. The bands clean horn section was remarkable and the band featured méringue tunes that gained instant popularity. For example, in Martinique, several music groups such as Ensemble Abricot, Les Djoubap, Combo Jazz, Georges Plonquitte (fr) (Vini Dance Compas Direct) conquered the public with the many tunes or compositions of Nemours.[12] Later Nemours became a favorite of Dominican president, Joaquín Balaguer who often contracted the band.[13] This is why hits like "Ti Carole", "Chagrin D'amour" featured by known Dominican stars Luis Miguel and others are also sung in Spanish.

Rise in popularity[edit]

In the early 1960s Nemours and the Sicot Brothers from Haiti frequently toured the Caribbean, especially Curaçao, Aruba, Saint Lucia, Dominica and mostly the French Islands of Martinique & Guadeloupe to spread the seed of the méringue-compas and cadence rampa.[14] Webert Sicot, a prominent Haitian saxophone player and the originator of cadence rampa, recorded three LP 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 cadence rampa music style. Almost all existing Haitian compas bands have toured these islands that have since adopted the music and the dance of the méringue.

From 1968 to the 1970s prominent bands like Bossa Combo, Volo Volo de Boston, Les Shleu-Shleu, Les Ambassadeurs, Les Vikings, Les Fantaisistes, Les Loups Noirs, Les Freres Dejean, Les Difficiles, and Les Gypsies have exerted a dominance on the Caribbean and many places in Europe and South America musical scene. The band Tabou Combo, perhaps one of the most legendary compas ensembles, took the musical style to greater heights when they toured countries like Senegal and Japan during their world tours. Their performances in Panama enamored the population, earning them the title of "Official Panamanian Band". The band's impact on local Panamanian music was so profound that to this day, Panamanians still consider compas (or what they call, "reggae haitiano") as part of their national music. Throughout the seventies, Tabou Combo remained on the Paris Hits Parade for weeks with their "New York City" album, and held performances attended by thousands in New York's Central Park.[15][better source needed]. During the 80s, popular artist, Gesner Henry, alias Coupe Cloue and his band Trio Select, successively toured West Africa and left sweet memories today again. He was crowned King. Another band, Orchestre Septentrional D'Haïti (or the Northern Orchestra of Haiti) also had a lot of popularity during this time period and cemented the style of large orchestras as part of the northern signature of compas.

Dance style[edit]

The dance-style that accompanied compas in 1957, is a two-step dance called carré (square) introduced by Nemours Jean-Baptiste in 1962.[16] As a méringue, a ballroom dance, compas is danced in pairs. Sometimes partners dance holding each other tightly and romantically; in this case often most of the moves are made at the hips.[17]

Derivatives of Compas[edit]


Zouk was an attempt to develop a proper local music that would lessen or even eradicate the meringue-cadence or compas influence from the French islands. When the MIDI technology came out, Kassav' used it fully, creating new sound in both their fast carnival beat and compas. The Antilleans were 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 béton faded away In the same 1980s[18] and Antilleans would continue to play and dance meringue-cadence or compas. After all, French Antilleans and Dominicans are important players of the style. However, the problem is that musicians from Martinique and Guadeloupe have calculatedly labeled compas as zouk in order to remain on the map (keeping in mind compas was created in 1950 by Haitians); creating a big confusion in Africa, Cabo Verde, Angola, Bresil, Portugal and other places. Kassav', the originator of the zouk béton, is a compas music band that has taken compas to many places, and is the only band that continues to include zouk béton in its repertoire, though to a lesser extent.


There is a strong compas influence in Cape Verdean music.[19] During the 1960s-1980s 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, whose main music is compas, toured Cabo island on 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. Cape Verdeans artists have been exposed to compas in the US and France.[20] Today the new generation of Cape Verdean artists features a light compas close to Haitian and French Antillean. Until Haitian musicians could tour Cabo Verde, compas that was promoted as zouk by French Antillean artists would not as popular.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Hall, Michael R. (2012). Historical Dictionary of Haiti. p. 69. ISBN 9780810878105. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  2. ^ All Music Guide 1997. World Music. French Antilles p901 Published by Backbeat Book CA. Caribbean Music Styles
  3. ^ Coupé Cloué and other Haitian bands touted the french Antilleans and have further exposed the Compas Direct style
  4. ^ Manuel, Peter (2006). Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 1-59213-463-7.
  5. ^ Gage Averill (1997). Caribbean Current: A day for the hunter. A day for the prey. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
  6. ^ Peter Manuel, Musics of the Non-Western World, University Press 1988, p72-74
  7. ^ Stone, Michael. "FRoots Review" (PDF). p. 55. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  8. ^ Wise, Brian (9 June 2006). "Band's Haitian Fusion Offers Fellow Immigrants a Musical Link to Home". New York Times. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  9. ^ Peter Manuel, Jocelyne Guilbault and many more have spoken about the mini-jazz in their books
  10. ^ All Music Guide, compas direct
  11. ^ Haiti, Guadeloupe, Cabo Verde and others
  12. ^ Dominique Janvier, introduction on Nemour' album cover 1980, long vie to Nemours
  13. ^ Tambour Battant p85
  14. ^ All Music Guide 1994, compas direct
  15. ^ AMG 1994
  16. ^ Averill, Gage (15 April 2008). A Day for the Hunter, a Day for the Prey: Popular Music and Power in Haiti. ISBN 9780226032931. Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  17. ^ 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 Rampa" for his similarly modernized meringue)
  18. ^ Peter Manuel, Popular Musics of the Non-Western World, Oxford University Press, 1988.
  19. ^ In the 1960s the coladeira emerged as a more lively, upbeat counterpart to the morna. The coladeira is performed in fast duple meter, accompanying informal pop-style couple dancing. its primary influences appear to be an obscure folk processional music by the same name, Afro-American commercial music, the morna, and most important, modern French Caribbean pop...more often it is played by a modern dance band, that is, with drums, bass, electric guitars, and the like. Peter Manuel, Popular Musics of the Non-Western World, p. 95. Oxford University Press, 1988.
  20. ^ ...Acculturation has been further promoted by the growth of overseas communities (especially in New England) whose population now exceeds that of Cape Verde itself (around 300,000). Peter Manuel, Popular Musics of the Non-Western World, p. 95. Oxford University Press, 1988. Par: Jean Jean-Pierre