Table of Content

  1. Konpa music
  2. Mini-djaz bands
  3. Konpa dance

1. Konpa music characteristics

The word “Compas” means “measure” in Spanish or “rhythm”, and one of the most distinctive characteristics of konpa is the consistent pulsating tanbou beat (the tanbou drum is considered the national instrument of Haiti) [18].

The name “cadence rampa” (kadans ranpa) is the result of the rivalisation between Sicot and Jean-Baptiste, and was created by Sicot to differentiate his music. Kadans and konpa are almost the same with just slight differences. Here, konpa and kadans is used interchangeably, as a synonym (for a dancers perspective it is fine, we are not musicians and thus hardly can make the distinction). “Cadence” is an English word, and one of its meaning is also “measure”, so it is a well fit for the genre.

Webert Sicot, the originator of cadence known for his great virtuosity, mostly harmonic skills, was well appreciated in the Caribbean. This is why the term cadence was more popular than compas.

Konpa is characterized by several elements [4]:

  • its consistent pulsating tanbou beat, constant uptempo rhythm,
  • its percussive aspect comes from the drum (in particular, the steady one-beat bass drum), the accentuated use of cymbals and, to a lesser extent, the high hat [19] plus a distinct beat of the cowbell [20] (tok, to-tok, tok-tok-tok), and a conga drum beating a dash of méringue;
  • its steady brass orchestra, a big band feel, and a solid melody (I note here, that some bands, especially in the mini-djazz era, used lead guitar, and did not have / had little brass);
  • its space for musical improvisation over the orchestral backbone;
  • and its spicy Latin-esque rhythm.

The tanbou drum (Haitian Creole pronunciation: [tãbu]) is the national musical instrument and type of barrel drum from Haiti [21].

Generally, in instrumental konpa direct, a sultry saxophone is the leading voice (in the mini-djaz era, a number of bands used lead guitar instead) – it aims to tell a piercing yet captivating story. Lyrics for konpa dirèk are normally written in any of the languages of Haiti or the neighboring Caribbean islands: Creole, French, Spanish, English, or Portuguese.

2. Mini-djaz bands

Mini-jazz (Haitian Creole: mini-djaz) is a reduced méringue-konpa band format of the mid-1960s characterized by the rock band formula of two electric guitars, one bass, and drum-conga-cowbell; some use an alto sax or a full horn section, while others use a keyboard, accordion or lead guitar [22]. Before, konpa bands were like orchestras consisting of dozens of members.

The popularity of Nemours Jean-Baptista’s and Webert Sicot’s music gradually faded away. New bands take over their places. It all started with Les Shleu Shleu. Nemours reached his top popularity in 1966, but the youth move away in favour of the “Mini Jazz”. To his own misfortune, Nemours was the one who introduced the band Les Shleu Shleu to the big audience of Cabane Choucoune (one of the best méringue dance clubs) [10].

The 1915-34 US occupation introduced jazz music to Haiti. Local music bands were sometimes called jazz in comparison to the American big band jazz. The word “jazz” has become the equivalent of band or orchestra. The mini-jazz movement started in the mid-1960s, when small bands called mini-djaz (which grew out of Haiti’s light rock and roll bands of the early 1960s) played konpa featuring paired electric guitars, electric bass, drumset and other percussion, often with a saxophone [23]:

Mini Jazz, or mini-djaz in Creole, began once many Port-au-Prince musicians, influenced by the uncanny popularity of American big band and the voodoo-fusion, mixed their musical styles with konpa. The movement started in the 1960s, after the U.S. occupation had long since ended and the cultural scars had had time to heal over and spread influence. In the massive mashup of genres, paired electric (jazz) guitars, an electric bass guitar, a horn (usually a saxophone), and a drum kit were employed.

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 Gypsies, 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 [22].

Les Gypsies de Petion-Ville – La Tulipe
Les Gypsies de Petion-ville
Les Gypsies de Petion-ville

However [18],

In the 1970s, mini-djaz moved back toward the jazzy origins in Haiti by returning to a commonplace implementation of a horn section. This distinguished popular merengue bands from mini jazz at the time, as most serious merengue players strayed away from the use of large brass. With a fresh and renewed sound, mini jazz inspired newfound attraction and landed some local hits. In the mid-1980s, this tapered off to an extent – but today, the genre can still be found in Creole communities. (…)

In the early 1970s, the full-horn-section kadans band Exile One, led by the talented Gordon Henderson, was the first to use the synthesizers to their music, that other young kadans or konpa bands from Haiti (mini-jazz) and the French Antilles emulated in the 1970s (also read the Gordon Henderson article) [23]:

Exile One, a very famous and influential kadans group who had their beginnings from the early 1970s, was a practitioner of mini-djaz from the start. They utilized synthesizers and a full horn section that inspired the trend toward returning to a heavy brass effect. They also proved that, with good musicianship, even something as structured and traditional as kadans can be molded into a new and exciting sound.

During the same period, popular mini-jazz groups such as Tabou Combo, Original Shleu Shleu and Volo Volo de Boston were touring throughout North American cities with musicians of the Haitian diaspora, establishing a mini-jazz scene most notably in Miami (Magnum Band) and New York City (Les Gypsies de Queens, note the stealing of the name Les Gypsies!) [22].

Just for reference (especially for the newcomers who are not yet familiar with this beautiful genre) here is a very incomplete (!) list of some famous (mini djaz) konpa bands to get started with:

  1. Gemini All Stars de Ti Manno,
  2. Tabou Combo (de Petion-Ville),
  3. Les Shleu Shleu,
  4. Les Gypsies de Petion-Ville,
  5. Les Difficiles (de Petion-Ville),
  6. Skah Skah #1,
  7. Les Vikings D’Haiti,
  8. Les Ambassadors,
  9. DP Express (Ti Manno used to be a member),
  10. Super Combo,
  11. Bossa Combo,
  12. Scorpio Universel,
  13. Digital Express,
  14. System Band,
  15. Volo-Volo,
  16. Magnum Band (based in Miami),
  17. Djet-X,
  18. Top Vice, T-Vice (successor, based in Miami),
  19. Les Loups Noirs,
  20. Dixie Band,
  21. Djakout Mizik (from Carrefour, Haiti),
  22. Mini All Stars,
  23. Shoogar Combo,
  24. Jet Live
  25. etc.
Super Combo – Moin domi dérho (1975)
Shoo Blak & Joseph “Blagueur” Laine – Lelene Cherie 1977
Skah Skah #1 – La Vie-a Bella (Carnival) (1980)
DP Express – Pran plasi Nou (1982)
Les Difficiles – L’école Lagué (1984)
Tabou Combo – Mabouya (released in 1989; mabouya is the name of the largest lizard on the island)
Magnum Band – Experience
Les Frères Dejean – First class. It is a composite of 3 songs (breakpoints at 2:59, 4:58). It is common that the bands reuse and combine different (even copying them from other, older bands, or making some modifications) songs (or parts of them) with each other to create these more that 10 min songs. However, long konpa songs exists. The duration of konpa songs is variable, but generally not above 6-8 minutes. Composites can be more that 10 minutes in duration (in general).

Most of the Haitian konpa musicians / bands emigrated abroad mainly to the US, to France, to Canada etc., long time ago, probably due to the worsening political and economical situation in Haiti (during the time of the Duvalier dictatorship), and the better oppurtunities they had as musicians, in hope for a better life.

Most of these bands are defunct now, their members either died or at an old age. Tabou Combo still exists though (it was founded in 1968, in Petion-Ville, Port-au-Prince). Tabou Combo is the biggest international success of Haitian konpa [24].

3. Konpa dance

The dance-style that accompanied compas in 1957, is a two-step dance called carré (square) introduced by Nemours Jean-Baptiste in 1962. As a méringue, a ballroom dance, konpa 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 [8].

To be continued…


Konpa from Haiti

  1. Gemini All Stars de Ti Manno – Mariage d’intérets
  2. Ti Manno – Souvenir
  3. Tabou Combo – Papillon vole
  4. Tabou Combo – New York City (live)
  5. Tabou Combo – New York City
  6. Tabou Combo – Tu as volé
  7. Les Shleu Shleu – Ce La Ou Ye
  8. Les Shleu Shleu – Moun Damou
  9. Les Shleu Shleu – Solange
  10. Les Gypsies de Petion-Ville – Pacole
  11. Les Gypsies de Pétion-Ville – Patience
  12. Les Gypsies de Petion-Ville – Courage
  13. Les Gypsies de Petion-Ville – La Tulipe
  14. Les Difficiles de Pétion-Ville – Mesdames Yo
  15. Les Difficiles de Petion-Ville – Espoir (1984)
  16. D.P. Express – Pran Plesi Nou
  17. DP Express – Carnaval Souke Ko Ou (very fast)
  18. Les Ambassadors – Moin Revive (Apye Nou Ye)
  19. Skah Skah #1 – Le Vie-a Belle (Carnival)
  20. Skah Shah D’Haiti #1 Plus – Colombus (1981)
  21. Skah Shah #1 Plus D’Haiti & Joseph “Blagueur” Laine – Skah Shah #1 Plus
  22. Les Chômeurs D’Haiti – Telephone (1975)
  23. Dixie Band – Lolita
  24. Mini All Stars – Patience (rework of Les Gypsies – Patience)
  25. Super Combo – Moin domi dérho
  26. Bossa Combo – Permanente
  27. Djet-X – Egal-Ego
  28. Top Vice – Sinfoni Damou
  29. Top Vice – Vole Lanmou #2
  30. Scorpio Universel – Compas universel
  31. Digital Express – Travay
  32. System Band – Rencontre Inoubliable
  33. Volo Volo – Amour volo
  34. Magnum Band – Adoration
  35. Les Loups Noirs – La Sirène
  36. Djakout Mizik – Septième ciel
  37. Djakout Mizik – Ma Seule Folie
  38. Shoogar Combo – Lèlène Chérie
  39. Magic Connection Music Stars – Zanmi (1984)
  40. C.C. All Stars – Vire Bo Kai
  41. Les Consuls d’Haiti – Belle Sirene (1974)
  42. Les Ambassadeurs D’Haiti – Piro (1977)
  43. Les Ambassadeurs D’Haiti – Regrets
  44. Les Vikings d’Haiti – Choc Vikings
  45. Compas Express – Vie Musicien
  46. Les Frères Dejean – First Class
  47. Les Frères Déjean – L’univers

Rare and unique Haitian songs

Credits: A lot of thanks to E4Mizik’s YouTube channel for collecting a lot of these old and rare songs from Haiti:

The Cuban influence on Haiti’s music was strong: danzón, son, cha cha chá, bolero, etc. was definitely known in Haiti.

Super Ensemble Webert Sicot – Club Des Quatres (1968, cha-cha-chá kadans ranpa)

Raoul Guillaumme & Son Orchestre – Yoyo & Pese Cafe (the first song is son, the second is méringue)

Guy Durosier – live @ Carnegie Hall – Pitit Yon Zanimo & A 16 Ans

Guy Durosier – Mathilda (méringue)

Orchestre Septentrional d’Haiti – 1er Janvier (méringue with danzón)

Les Vikings D’Haiti – Dansez (1973, konpa with danzón)

Webert Sicot – Deux Guidons (kadans ranpa)

Webert Sicot – Ti Mal (kadans ranpa)

Super Ensemble Webert Sicot – Moin Pap’ Ca Marie Ave’Ou

Webert Sicot & Le Thoray All Stars – Ogou Badagris

Webert Sicot – Desde Panama

Webert Sicot – Minouche

Webert Sicot – Gina (cadence rampa, but has a synth in it that cadence-lypso uses, starting from 01:15)

Webert Sicot – Just for you. – Jazz in Haitian interpretation. He dedicated this song to his wife and children.

Issa El Saieh – La Sirene, La Baleine (méringue)

Issa EL Saïeh and his Orchestra – RELE’M (1960s) (meringue)

Issa El Saieh Orchestra & Herby Widmaier – Woman In Love (1956)

Les Diplomates – Simbi (196X)

Meridional des Cayes – Sam Fè yo

Les Freres Dejean – Concerto Pour Un Coeur (1974)

Joe Jack Recontre Fedia Laguerre – Realite (1983, it is a duet song)

Experience 7 – Isabelle (1978)

Rodrigue Milien – Necessité (bolero, there is a bachata rework of this song by Bachata Haiti)

Réginald Policard – Diane (mainly bossa nova)

Voodoo Drums – Contradanse Avant Simple and Meringue with Flute

Meringue – Jean Léon Destiné et sa troupe

Super Jazz des Jeunes – Denise

Super Jazz des Jeunes – Vacances (1962)

Super Jazz des Jeunes – Tout Moun Dou (Haiti 1963)

Super Jazz des Jeunes – J’ai Péché (1962)

Super Jazz des Jeunes – Bonne Année

Gérard Dupervil – Choubouloute (he was member of Super Jazz des Jeunes and one of Webert Sicot’s music teacher)

Gérard Dupervil – Fleur de Mai











[10] Adrien B. Berthaud – Nemours Jean Baptiste L’architecte du Rythme Compas Direct

[11] Adrien B. Berthaud – Webert Sicot

[12] David Horn, John Shepherd (eds.) 2014. Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World, Volume 9: Genres: Caribbean and Latin America. Bloomsbury Publishing, London. pp. 69.

[13] (click on “about us” at the footer – a popup will appear with the information about Adrien B. Berthaud)























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