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Compás music is a musical genre that is native to Haiti. It is also known as kompá, kompás, compás direct or kompá dirèk. This style of music, which is known for its driving beat and adaptability, is closely associated with Haiti, and it is often featured at Haitian festivals and events. Some annual festivals, either in Haiti or elsewhere, feature compás music and other aspects of Haitian culture. Compás music is also available in recorded form from record stores that specialize in world music.
The development of this genre of music is credited to Nemours Jean-Baptiste, a Haitian jazz artist who was inspired by the musical stylings of the Dominican Republic. Jean-Baptiste incorporated traditional Haitian sounds and rhythms into a lively musical style that incorporated a lot of brass and easily recognized rhythms. Compás music typically is accompanied by singing in the Haitian Creole language. Like jazz, this type of music pays homage to the African roots of Haitian culture, but compás music takes those roots in a whole new direction.
Jean-Baptiste introduced compás music to the world with a 1957 album by his group, Ensemble Nemours Jean-Baptiste, and the genre quickly took off thanks to the popularity of the song De P'ti Piti Kalbass. Compás enjoyed a heyday in the 1960s and 1970s with an assortment of talented musicians expanding it to create their own sound. Jean-Baptiste believed that compás music was almost like a building block; it could be taken in any direction under the right hands, making the genre quite diverse. Some traditionalists criticized the introduction of compás music because it involved a lot of synthesizers and electronic instruments, which was a marked departure from traditional Haitian music. The genre is considered to have made traditional Haitian music more prominent, however, by introducing the sounds of Haiti to a wider audience as the music spread to other countries.
One of the most distinctive characteristics of compás music is the driving beat, a trait that is common to many styles of Caribbean music. Many people consider compás music to be easy and fun to dance to, incorporating musical traditions such as Merengue that propel dancers around the floor with lively, active beats. A visitor might hear the notes of compás music in a community of Haitian immigrants anywhere in the world, and where there is compás, dancers usually are not far behind.
Rather than "beat", the Spanish word "Compas" means "measure", the time space between two bars on the musical stave. A better translation might be, "to beat time", the actions of a music director while leading music to set the speed at which the music is to be played, with the appropriate downward hand gesture (downbeat) to mark the beginning of a new measure.