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Compas (French pronunciation: [kɔ̃pa]), also known as compas direct in French, konpa dirèk in Haitian Creole,[2] or simply konpa but most commonly as Kompa is a modern méringue dance music genre of Haiti.[1] The genre was popularized by Nemours Jean-Baptiste 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.[3] Whether it is called zouk, where French Antilles artists of Martinique and Guadeloupe have taken it, or konpa in places where Haitian artists have toured, this méringue style is influential in part of[4] the Caribbean, Portugal, Cape Verde, France, part of Canada, South and North America.[5][6][7]

Etymology and characteristics[edit]

The word "compas" means "measure" or "rhythm" in Spanish,[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 trademark registered in the United States by Nemours Jean-Baptiste’s heirs Dr Yves Nemours Jean-Baptiste and Mrs. Yvrose Jean-Baptiste) translates as direct beat.[8] In Creole, it is officially spelled as konpa,[9] but it is most popularly spelled with an "m" in place of the "n" (as in kompa) even though it is considered a botched spelling translation that resulted from a phonetic misunderstanding between French and Haitian Creole, the latter with a newly standardized orthography which has only been established since 1979 that contains no m-sounding consonants before b’s and p’s unlike in French.[10][11]


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 two cowbells, one 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 or accordion.[12][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 techniques that contribute to the fanciness[to whom?] of the style. Although Raymond Gaspard (Nemours) had already started it in the 1950s, 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, Ensemble ‘Aux Callebasses‘ Of Nemours Jean-Baptiste played rhythms such as Cuba's guaracha and cha-cha-chá as well as Haiti's Bannann Pouyak, Grenn Moudong, and méringue lente. In 1957, Nemours Jean-Baptiste created compas, which has its roots in Haitian traditional méringue 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.[13] Compas is sung in Creole,[14] English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. Nemours' popularity grew in and out of the country. The band's 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) won over the public with the many tunes or compositions of Nemours.[15] Later, Nemours became a favorite of Dominican president Joaquín Balaguer, who often contracted the band.[16] This is why hits like "Ti Carole" and "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 and Guadeloupe to spread the seed of the méringue-compas and cadence rampa.[17] Webert Sicot, a prominent Haitian saxophone player and the originator of cadence rampa, recorded three LPs 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 with 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 Frères Dejean, Les Difficiles, and Les Gypsies have exerted a dominance on the Caribbean and many places in European and South American music scenes. 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") 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.[18][better source needed] During the '80s, popular artist Gesner Henry, alias Coupé Cloué and his band Trio Select, successively toured West Africa and left sweet memories. He was crowned king. Another band, Orchestre Septentrional D'Haïti (or the Northern Orchestra of Haiti), was also popular 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.[19] 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.[20]

Derivatives of Compas[edit]


With the Kwaze le 8 Contredanse from southern Haiti, the compas is part of Haitian culture. During the 1970s and 1980s, it was very successful in the Caribbean and contributed to the influence of Zouk in the French West Indies. Nevertheless, Zouk and its rhythm are still mainly influenced by Mazouk and Biguine from Martinique, as well as by Gwoka from Guadeloupe, traditional music from the French Antilles.


In the 1960s, the coladeira emerged as a livelier counterpart to the morna. The coladeira is played in fast double time, accompanying informal pop-style couple dances. Its main influences seem to be obscure folk processional music of the same name, commercial African American music, the morna and, above all, modern French Caribbean pop music. Most often it is played by a modern dance band, i.e. with drums, bass, electric guitars, etc.[21] From the 1960s to the 1980s, Haitian artists and groups such as Claudette & Ti Pierre, Tabou Combo and especially Gesner Henry a.k.a. Coupé Cloué and the Dominican group Exile One were very popular in Africa. In addition, the French West Indies group Kassav' and other West Indian musicians, whose main music is Zouk, have toured Cabo Island on various occasions. Many Cape Verdean artists play zouk and compas. A good example is the talented Tito Paris dança mami Criola (1994); this CD contained music close to Haiti Tabou Combo, Caribbean Sextet, Tropicana and French Antilles Kassav', etc. Cape Verdean artists were exposed to zouk and compas in the US and France. Acculturation has been aided by the growth of overseas communities (especially in New England) whose population now exceeds that of Cape Verde itself (about 300,000).[21] Today, the new generation of Cape Verdean Kizomba artists play a rhythm close to "Zouk love" and Konpa. To celebrate this influence, a Zouk Museum has been created in Luanda, Angola. It is the only museum in the world dedicated to Caribbean music. Its founders have collected about 10,000 albums, from what is called Zouk Retro, to Zouk-love and Afro-Love.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Hall, Michael R. (2012). Historical Dictionary of Haiti. Scarecrow Press. p. 69. ISBN 9780810878105. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  2. ^ Sam Bleakley; J. S. Callahan (2012). Surfing Tropical Beats. Alison Hodge Publishers. p. 149. ISBN 9780906720851.
  3. ^ All Music Guide 1997. World Music. French Antilles p901 Published by Backbeat Book CA. Caribbean Music Styles
  4. ^ Coupé Cloué and other Haitian bands touted the French Antilleans and have further exposed the Konpa Direct style
  5. ^ Manuel, Peter (2006). Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae (2nd ed.). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 1-59213-463-7.
  6. ^ Gage Averill (1997). Caribbean Current: A day for the hunter. A day for the prey. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.
  7. ^ Peter Manuel (1988). Popular Musics of the Non-Western World. Oxford University Press. pp. 72–74.
  8. ^ Stone, Michael. "FRoots Review" (PDF). p. 55. Retrieved 2 December 2014.
  9. ^ Wise, Brian (9 June 2006). "Band's Haitian Fusion Offers Fellow Immigrants a Musical Link to Home". New York Times. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  10. ^ | Kompa (accessed 13 February 2024)
  11. ^ "Haïti: Loi du 18 septembre 1979" [Haiti: Act of 18 September 1979]. Chaire pour le développement de la recherche sur la culture d'expression française en Amérique du Nord (in French). Québec City: Université Laval. Archived from the original on 27 July 2015.
  12. ^ Peter Manuel, Jocelyne Guilbault and many more have spoken about the mini-jazz in their books
  13. ^ All Music Guide, compas direct
  14. ^ Haiti, Guadeloupe, Cabo Verde and others
  15. ^ Dominique Janvier, introduction on Nemour' album cover 1980, long vie to Nemours
  16. ^ Tambour Battant p85
  17. ^ AllMusic 1994, compas direct
  18. ^ AllMusic 1994
  19. ^ Averill, Gage (15 April 2008). A Day for the Hunter, a Day for the Prey: Popular Music and Power in Haiti. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226032931. Retrieved 20 March 2014.
  20. ^ 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 méringue.)
  21. ^ a b Peter Manuel (1988). Popular Musics of the Non-Western World. Oxford University Press. p. 95.

Further reading[edit]