Origins of Haitian Kompa Music

There are many good reasons why “Haitian Kompa” music is trending online, say music fans in Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean. The national music of Haiti is called “compass” or “kompa,” while linked to French and Haitian Creole languages. This Kompa styled music features rhythmic drums and horns; while always very popular in Caribbean nations due to what local historians dub as “the people’s music.”

Another aspect of Haitian Kompa is linked to local tribal sounds that, in turn, have contributed to reggae, rock and roll and to the genre of a wide range of other ethnic music styles. For instance, Kompa is described as “jazzier” than most other traditional Haitian folk tunes. The main elements include a strong bass orchestra that is all about producing a danceable beat; while being presented by a big band at various Haitian Island events, festivals and weddings. Kompa music is always about Haiti and our┬ápeople, as you can see on┬áthe Haitian government website; while the music’s focus is to tell a captivating local story with a sultry saxophone as its main voice.

Haitian Music Roots Features Kompa “Soul”

The best way and means to explain Haitian’s folk music roots is to listen to a Kompa melody and note how its lyrics or “direk” features the “voice” of people living in the Caribbean Island. For example, Kompa music lyrics often are written in French, Spanish, Portuguese and Creole languages or dialects. The famed Haitian and Caribbean band “Exile One” from the 1970s is credited with being a top Kompa music playing group. Band members explained their music stylings as being a mix of “cadence-lypso, jazz and coladeira.”

The elements of Kompa include:

  • Music with a steady cadence
  • A fusion of American rock and jazz
  • Big-band influence with a dash of Haitian folk music and “mini jazz”
  • Good music for both line dancing and even traditional ballroom styled party tunes
  • A type of tango music that is passionate and partner centered

In general, the great thing about Kompa is its wide variety of influences; while still retaining its creole soul sounds.

Kompa is World Music at its Best

The view about new and even traditional Haitian music is always linked to its Kompa specific melodies that are unique and always identified as breaking language barriers because musicians think “Kompa speaks for itself.” In fact, there are so many variations on the themes of Kompa that the genre has now expanded into hugely popular interpretations with African and European roots or influences. This musical genre is so popular in Haiti today that those who enjoy playing Kompa have expanded the sound’s typical instruments from its traditional horn and drum section to using high-tech music synthesizers and electric guitars. Still, there is the ever present cowbell conga drums and keyboard sounds to keep its stylistic “meringue” origins heard and never drowned out.

Dance Music is at the Heart of Kompa

When people in Haiti go out for an evening of fun and dancing, a Kompa “meringue” is basically a ballroom dance party with fans dancing in pairs; while a highlight is romantic partners holding each other tightly as they swap back and forth while shaking their hips to Kompa’s spirited Haitian rhythms. Today, there are hundreds of Haitian musicians and Kompa bands that tour the Caribbean Islands and worldwide.

Overall, there has never been a better time to enjoy Kompa Music now that there are so many great bands featured online, and in dance halls in various Haitian and Caribbean communities in North America. The music is even a big hit in New York City where a recent Kompa Music event in the Big Apple’s Central Park drew more than 10,000 music fans.

Music is a huge part of my life, so I hope this helps teach a little bit about some of the music that I love!

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Published on: April 21, 2016

Filed Under: Music

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