Compas (also known as konpa direk, Compas Direct, compa, kompa or konpa) is a musical genre from Haiti that stems from European and African roots. This genre was recognized and adopted as Haiti’s national music and it oftentimes features Haitian events and festivals. All around the world, several festivals feature yearly compás music with various other Haitian culture aspects. Compás music can also be found in its recorded form at music stores which sell world music as a speciality.
This genre came about from Nemours Jean Baptiste, a jazz artist from Haiti who was an actor of the cultural and musical trade of Cuba and Haiti. Even though Jean Baptiste received credit for coming up with Compas, people say that Quedzere Durozo, his congo player at practice time was actually the one who struck conga in a way that would later turn into compas direk. This name reportedly stems from an officer of the army who woke up from what he was hearing and stated in Creole that the beat was so direct. The popularity of compass probably took off because of its ability to hold and improvise steady rhythm sections. Baptiste made use of original Haitian rhythms and sounds in lively styles of music with lots of brass and rhythms that are easy to recognize. The music of compás usually comes with Haitian Creole singing.
Even though Nemours Jean-Baptiste started his orchestra in the year 1955, it wasn’t until 1957 when compas direct or konpa became known through the album with the well-known song De P'ti Piti Kalbass, possibly the very first hit of compass. This genre took off fast. It enjoyed heydays from the 1960s to the 1970s with a wide array of highly talented musicians who performed compás music, building onto it to make a personal sound. Baptiste thought that the music of compás was similar to building blocks; it was able to explore every direction under proper order, making this genre very diverse.
Several traditionalists ended up initially criticizing the electric guitar introduction from the start of 1958, as well as the following year’s electric bass within the Compas; this marked a departure from original music from Haiti. Even though Dodophe Legros already made use of the electric guitar within well-known urban Haitian music, Nemours was the one who introduced this to a larger audience. It should be noted how Nemours Jean-Baptiste became an innovator, which everyone else followed soon thereafter and this genre possibly made original music from Haiti much more prominent through the introduction of Haitian sounds to a larger audience while the music spread out past the shores of Haiti.
In Spanish, the term “compás” translates to “rhythm” or “beat” and happens to be a highly distinctive trait of compás music with its steady pulsating drum beats, a characteristic popular with a lot of styles of Caribbean music. The music of compás is fun and easy to actually dance to, making use of musical traditions such as Merengue, which sends dancers to swing around the dance floor with active and lively beats (although Compas has slower dances and beats compared to Merengue). You might hear compás music notes within a Haitian immigrant community all over the world. Wherever compass exists, dancers will also be found. In comparison to zouk, most of its lyrics are in Haitian Creole, with quicker rhythms compared to zouk.
It has to be said that a wide array of rhythms exist within Haiti (from a lot of tribes stemming from Africa) and other forms of the Compas or Konpa. Konpa Dirèk happens to be a music genre emulated through the Caribbean and various parts in Africa.
Within North America, festivals of compas frequently take place within New York, Montreal, Boston and Miami.