Since 1955, Haiti has offered the world a uniquely danceable and infectiously sexy music known as compas, konpa, or kompa. The Kreyol language has been standardized in written form since only 1979, so there are several ways to spell everything.
But what has hindered Kreyol's literal documentation has strengthened its oral history and imbued its speech patterns with a rhythmic musicality all their own. The Haitian cultural traditions of playful double-entendres, shifting shades of meaning, and colorful aphorisms charge the music with a literary quality that highlights its rhythmic fervor.
Compas' origins date back to the 1800s, when Afro-Caribbean and European musical elements came together in popular dance. The guitar-driven folk sound, infused with a méringue (Haitian merengue) beat, riding cymbals, keyboard runs, and festival horns define the modern form that emerged in the mid-1950s.
Haitian Compas Festival 2013 at Klipsch Amphitheater at Bayfront Park May 18
Today, the genre is alive and well, with heavy fan bases in New York, Paris, Berlin, and Miami. Now in its 15th year, the Haitian Compas Festival, celebrating Haitian Flag Day, will attract up to 15,000 visitors to downtown Miami. And at least half of them will be tourists.
New Times caught up with longtime organizer Rodney Noel of Noel & Cecibon Productions for a guide to Haitian Compas week in Miami.
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Compas Fest Kickoff Parties. With Klass, Anbayans, DJ Toni Mixx, J-Beatz, and Nu-Look. 10 p.m. Thursday, May 16, and Friday, May 17, at Moca Café, 738 NE 125th St., North Miami. Tickets cost $30 plus fees via completeticketsolutions.com. Ages 21 and up. "Moca Café is my new venue in the heart of North Miami. It's one of the best restaurants in town, but also the premier Haitian lounge. We have a live band every Friday, a DJ every Saturday, and jazz night every Sunday. DJ Tony Mixx is the biggest Haitian DJ in New York, and Klass and Nu Look are experts in the konpa direc, or live compas, sound."
Compas Black Party. With Carimi, Kreyol La, DJ 5Etwal, and DJ Stakz. 10 p.m. Friday, May 17, at Space, 34 NE 11th St., Miami; 305-375-0001; clubspace.com. Tickets cost $30 plus fees via completeticketsolutions.com. Ages 21 and up. "I've been promoting Haitian music in Miami for 22 years. That's almost half my life. We've done the Space party now every year for about the past ten years. It should bring in about 1,500 people. Carimi is a great young pop band with a big following in the French Caribbean islands and in Europe. Kreyol La, too, they're a big festival band. But I don't have a favorite band. I'm a businessman. I love them all."
The 15th Annual Haitian Compas Festival. Hosted by DJ Griot. With Djakout, Emeline Michel, Belo, DJ 5Etwal, and others. 4 p.m. Saturday, May 18, at Klipsch Amphitheater at Bayfront Park, 301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Tickets cost $35 to $100 plus fees via livenation.com. Ages 21 and up. "The biggest market for the Compas Fest besides Miami is New York. We have a lot of people come for the festival from New York, Haiti, Paris, and Canada every year. DJ Griot has been hosting for 13 years. He's a great Haitian-American and a very good DJ on 99 Jamz. Our headliner, Djakout, is still one of the hottest bands in the business. They always win the trophy when it comes to karnaval. Emeline Michel, we call her the Haitian Diva, this is her first year with us, and she's coming with a big group of dancers. Belo is on a different level of musical talent. He goes from Kreyol reggae to Kreyol jazz, and he's won some big international song competitions. We also have DJ 5Etwal, who draws about 700 people a week to his party at Moca Café."
Compas Fest Afterparty. With Carimi and Disip. 11 p.m. Monday, May 20, at TBA. Tickets cost $30 plus fees via completeticketsolutions.com. Ages 21 and up. "I've been in the Haitian music industry for a long time. I've been seeing a lot of great young and old artists alike getting some recognition recently. And now there's a whole new generation of Haitian-Americans looking up to them. It's only a matter of time before we have that next big crossover artist who goes pop in the U.S. Somebody, some kid from Miami or New York. It's about time for us to have another Wyclef. So to all my Haitian people, I look forward to seeing you at the festival and the parties. Get your tickets early."