Compas music (written as Compas Direct in French and Kompa or konpa in Haitian creole) 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 Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominica, 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 meringue style is very influential in the Caribbean, Africa, Cape Verde, France, part of Canada, South and North America.
Compas direct is a modern meringue popularized in 1955 by the sax and guitar player Nemours Jean Baptiste. 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 music is sung in Haitian Creole, English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, etc.
Webert Sicot left Nemours Jean Baptiste band to popularize his cadence rampa in 1962. Because of the frequent tours of the Sicot brothers, cadence became very influential in the Caribbean. Actually cadence and compas are the same modern Haitian meringue. Rivalery between Nemours and Sicot created these names for the meringue.
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 kompa 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 Pétion-Ville. 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.
From 1968 to 1975 prominent mini-jazz like Bossa Combo, les Shleu shleu, les Ambassadeurs, 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 such as les Difficiles and Gypsies influenced many flamenco artists. The guitar was the king instrument.
These young Haitian mini-jazz musicians were critical in the creation of new technics that contribute to the fancyness of the style. Although Raymond Guaspard (Nemours) had already started it in the 50s, however, guitar players such as 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/DP. Express/Zekle...), Police Nozile (Freres Dejean/DP. Express...) and many more have created intricate mostly rhythmic guitar styles that constitute a strong distinguishable feature of the meringue.
The French Antilles cadence or compas
The Haitian compas music or cadence was introduced to Dominica, the French Antilles and other Caribbean countries during the mid 50s. In 1962, Webert Sicot toured Trinidad with his kadans band for two to three weeks, playing every night at the Hilton hotel chain. The frequent tours of Nemours Jean-Baptiste, the originator of the first meringue-compas band after 1960's and Webert Sicot, the initiator of the first meringue-cadence band in 1962, have cemented their music, specially, in Dominica, Martinique and Guadeloupe. This modern Méringue (compas or cadence) has helped unite all the former French colonies of the Caribbean by combining their cultural influences. These were followed by the Antillean mini-jazz bands like Les Gentlemen, Les Vikings de Guadeloupe, Les Leopards, Tabou # 2...and bands like la Perfecta, Simon Jurade, etc.
Cadence-lypso or Dominica kadans
Cadence-lypso is another name for kadans in Dominica. The most influential figure in the promotion of Cadence-lypso was the Dominican group Exile One(based on the island of Guadeloupe) that featured the calypso music from the English speaking Caribbean and mostly cadence rampa of Haiti. It was pushed in the 1970s by groups from Dominica, and was the first style of Dominican music to find international acclaim. Aside from Exile One, other kadans bands included the Grammacks, 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 kadans singer of the late 1970s : the first compas female solo-singer, also known as Dominica's lady of songs and first lady of creole.
The success of kadans group Exile one as a full band with a full horn section and the first to acquire the synthesizer keyboard, inspired (mini-jazz) from Haiti and the French Antilles to follow this format. Exile One was copied by bands from all over and most of all from the island of Dominica. Exile One was the first kadans band to sign a production contract with a major label call Barclay Records. The first to export kadans music to the four corners of the globe: Japan, the Indian Ocean, Africa, North America, Europe, The Cape Verde islands.
In the mid 70s several of the guitar-based mini-jazz went back to the usual formula with a horn section. However, being the land of music, Haiti has several music styles such as troubadour, "rara", "koujay", the fast, mid and slow tempo "meringues".
Meringue troubadour bands such as Coupe Cloue (Gesner Henry), Rodrigue Milien, Toto Necessite, Althiery Dorival, However, etc. have by nature always performed without a horn section.
Other heavy meringue and compas 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 full horn section and keyboards.
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 Meringue-compas reached its zenith. Artists from many countries were featuring compas hits. Among the most copied and played were Tabou combo and DP Express. This trend continues till now. For example many south American artists such as Wilfrido Vargas, Bonny Cepeda, Reggaeton stars Dady yankee, Don Omar, etc. The fugees, Carlos Santana, Cabo verde artists, etc. have all featured compas tunes. Music groups such as Djet-X, Skah Sha #1, Magnum band, Tabou Combo, Coupe Cloue, DP Express, Freres Dejean, Scorpio, Tropicana, Volo Volo, Bossa combo, System band, etc 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, South America, etc.
Digital era, new generation or light compas
In the late 80s, young Haitian music groups applied the MIDI technology that in addition to reduce the band's size offers 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. The new generation was a moment of experiment with the MIDI technology. French Antilles kassav, which music repertoire is 85% compas music, was the first in the Caribbean to apply the MIDI already in use in pop and rock bands. 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 a two years while zin, lakol and papash continued with the MIDI without a live horn section.
Til now this formula is working. Bands such as Carimi, T-vice, Harmonic, etc. have influenced compas music bands in The French Antilles, Cabo Verde, Angola and other places. Zouk, coladeira and kizomba are compas derivatives. The compas' fine guitar lines with the chorus and other synthesizer effects is being heard now in the lighter French Antilles compas. For example, French Antilles singer Tanya St. Val who has colaborated with many great Haitian compas artists like Alan Cave, 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.
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 with Softcore and many others Antillean artists have adopted this light compas style, which is more popular in France and the Caribbean. Cabo Verdean, Caribbean and African artists usually feature one another via compas songs. Popular artists includes artists like Jacky Rapon in song like "Mi Amor", Ludo in song like "Weekend", Jackito in song like "Je l'aime a mourir" and Priscillia in song like "Dis le moi", Ali Angel in song like "Zouk Bordel 2003", and Iron in song like "Mr DJ" . This light compas style is called zouk love in the French Antilles.
Meringue-compas music and its derivatives
Today the meringue compas, deeply rooted in many countries, has influenced many music styles and been called other names: Cadence/Kadans/cadence-lypso, Zouk, Coladeira, Kizomba.
In Dominica, the same meringue called either cadence or compas introduced in the late 50s with the frequent tours of the Sicot brothers is often called cadence-lypso. Webert Sicot, the originator of cadance known for his great harmonic skills, was well appreciated in Guadeloupe. This is why the term cadence was more popular than the word compas. Exile One, the ring leader of the word cadence-lypso, featured some reggae, calypso but mostly cadence music. It is not sure whether the band's intent was to fusion Trinidadian calypso with Haitian cadence since little was done. For example, the song "La Dominique" in the album "Exile One Old School Session" features something closed, however, not often repeated. Exile one music repertoire is mostly cadence with all the features of the style. Of course the band had its personality; it was a great kadans band.
Actually Zouk is the French Antilles compas music. Originally zouk beton, the only zouk style created is a fast carnival tempo, mixed of gwo ka, tambour, tibwa, biguine, African, calypso and mostly kadans or meringue-compas with the full use of the MIDI technology. The style was hot and new but as other Caribbean bands start using the MIDI technology the sound became similar. By the late 80s zouk beton lost ground. Too fast, people went back to compas music, their main music, after all French Antilleans and Dominicans are important players of the meringue-compas or cadence style. Musicians from Martinique and Guadeloupe have promoted compas music as zouk in Africa, Cabo Verde, Portugal and other places. Therefore compas music has been erroneously called zouk there creating a big confusion. Actually since the late 80s zouk has faded away French Antilles kassav, the originator of the zouk beton, is a superb compas music band that has taken compas to many places in Africa, Portugal, Cabo Verde and others. Alike the Majestic popular Haitian Tabou combo, it has filled big concert places like the Paris Zenith and others.
The coladeira is the compas music. Cabo Verdeans have been exposed to the meringue in the USA and France where they adopted the styles. In addition to their tours in US and France, French Antillean artists whose main music is compas toured the Island to spray the seed. Many Cabo Verdean artists feature compas music. A good example is The talented Tito Paris who produced several CDs. "danca mami Criola" 1994, is a good compas CD close to Tabou combo, kassav, Caribbean Sextet, Exile One, Tropicana, etc... Today the new generation of Cabo Verdean artists features a ligh compas close to Haitian and French Antillean New generation.
Etymology and characteristics
The word "Compás" in Spanish means "beat" or "rhythm", and one of the most distinctive characteristics of Compas music is the consistent pulsating beat (Tambora (drum)), a trait common to many styles of Caribbean music. Compas music 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 Merengue). You may hear the notes of Compas music in a community of Haitian immigrants anywhere in the world, and where there is Compas, dancers are usually not far behind. Compas / Kompa 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.
Most influential meringue (compas/cadence) bands
Jazz Des Jeunes, Nemours Jean-Baptiste, Ensemble Webert Sicot, Les Guais troubadours, Ochestre Tropicana, Martha Jean-claude, Les Gypsies de Petion ville, DP Express, Tabou combo, Magnum band, Coupe Cloue, Les Freres Dejean, System Band, Exile One, Grammacks, Kassav, Les shleu sleu, Djet-X, Les Skah Sha, Sweet Miky, etc.
(from the article Compas music of Wikipedia)