Compas Music has Evolved with the Times

Compas music, popular among the middle-class of the Caribbean, particularly Haiti, is the island's favorite music to dance to. Generations of Haitians since the 1800s have grooved to this light variation of the meringue.


Sax player Nemours Jean Baptiste raised the profile of Compas in the early 50s when he performed in clubs in Port-au-Prince neighborhoods. The key to Compas's success back then was its freedom to improvise, while maintaining a consistent rhythm. Caribbean Compás musicians sing in several languages, among them Créole, English, and Spanish.

Mini-jazz, an offshoot of Compás, emerged in the 60s. It was derived from yeye bands, an airy form of rock and roll. Added instrumentation included electric lead and rhythm guitars, bass, percussion, and a horn section. Compás musician Shleu-Shleu led the Mini-Jazz revolution with bands that played in communes like Pétionville. Some exponents of this trend included Fréres Dé Jean, Bossa Combo, and Les Difficiles. In the 70s, synthesizers were added to the mix.

Compas evolved again in the 80s when the French Antilles group, Kassav, adopted the Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI). MIDI technology streamlined the traditional band line-up, eliminating some of the players. At the same time it created many new musical textures. This new form of Compás was named Compás Nouvelle Génération. Digital Compás had a short life span, with many bands returning to live music again.

Compas music today is danced to by the Haitian Diaspora around the globe and been imitated everywhere in the Caribbean, Africa, and the U.S.

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Read more: Kompa, Nemours Jean Baptiste, Mini-jazz, Shleu-Shleu, Frere Dejean, Bossa Combo, Les Difficiles de Petion-Ville, Music

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