MIAMI — The jazzy dance music pounds out into the darkness behind the recording studio, just as it blares from cab radios, storefronts and restaurants in Haitian neighborhoods.
Driving the beat is a conga drum, the instrument that makes this music Haitian compas (COMB'-pah). Fans revere it as the link between scattered Haitian communities worldwide and generations divided between parents born in the Caribbean nation and children raised elsewhere.
Each song is an invitation to dance, and thousands will writhe to its up-tempo rhythms at the 10th Haitian Compas Festival in Miami on Saturday.
"Compas is like hip-hop for Americans. It's like salsa for Cubans, like merengue for Dominicans. It's our national music," says Harrys Latortue, who plays compas during his daily "BJ Live" radio program in Miami.
The festival's lineup includes the Miami-born Magnum Band that's been making compas since 1976, and popular newcomers Djakout Mizik, who performed with Haitian hip-hop star Wyclef Jean on MTV's New Year's Eve special.
Festival organizers expect 30,000 on Saturday in Miami's Bicentennial Park. Many of the headliners are also performing at smaller clubs on Sunday and Monday. The festival was scheduled around Haitian Flag Day, May 18.
"We definitely use it as an occasion to celebrate Haitian pride, for all those people who can't get to Haiti for Flag Day," said Evrose Philias-Noel, the festival's administrator.
Festival organizers will be collecting canned goods to send to Haiti, where skyrocketing food prices prompted violent riots in the capital last month. The food drive is in step with compas song lyrics that are often politically charged, exploring family dramas and the suffering of Haiti's poor, fans say.
"It's beautiful music, and it gets better when you listen to what they say," said Joanne Borgella, a Haitian-American model and recent American Idol contestant who will be attending the festival.