Are we aware that we were lucky enough to have seen or had contact with the creator (with Pierre-Édouard Décimus) of a musical style that has toured the world? Jacob Desvarieux, the living legend, passed away on Friday, July 30 after contracting Covid-19. A photo of the artist and a candle were posted on his Facebook page, the flame is heart-shaped.
Since the announcement of the death of this mainstay of the group Kassav’, tributes come from many personalities : Emmanuel Macron (President of the French Republic), Roselyne Bachelot (French Minister of Culture), Sébastien Le Cornu (French Minister of Overseas Territories), Ary Chalus (President of the Regional Council of Guadeloupe), Guy Losbar (President of the Departmental Council of Guadeloupe), Christiane Taubira (former French Minister of Justice) among the political representatives, all his musician and singer friends as well as his millions of fans all over the world.
Kariculture gives you some of the important dates in the biography of this musical and cultural monument who made the colours of Guadeloupe and the French Caribbean shine throughout the world, who brought them closer to Africa and who made Kassav’ the first French musical group for international tours.
Jacob Desvarieux was born on November 21, 1955 in Paris and would have been 66 years old in four months, if he had not been killed by Covid. He was three months old when he arrived in his mother’s native land, Guadeloupe. His mother’s love of travelling would first introduce him Martinique, he lived for ten years in Guadeloupe and the sister island. It is perhaps from there that he will later have the desire to work with Martinicans and to rise above controversies that can sometimes exist between the two islands.
Then, his mother, who had family settled in Senegal, took him to discover the great black continent, his origins. He stayed there until he was 12 years old, but he will remember his two years spent in this country all his life. It was there that he learned the first notes of the guitar with the “big brothers” of the neighbourhood. Seeing his passion for music, his mother gave him a guitar when he was 10. She was not mistaken, because Jacob decided to earn a living with music.
We are in the early 1970s, he first became an arranger at the age of 16, then in Marseilles, he founded a rock band called “The Bad Grass”, then it was “Sweet Bananas” which recorded the track “Bilboa dance” which became the theme song of a morning show on RMC, and later he joined the group “Ozila”.
After this stay in the south of France, the young man returned to the capital and there he met Guadeloupean bass player Pierre-Édouard Décimus. In 1979, they decided to start Kassav’, an innovative and different group that would shake things up by recruiting outstanding singers and musicians. The first Kassav’ album was called Love and Ka Dance, a vinyl with four tracks. Other albums followed, including Lagué mwen (1980), Aye (1984), An ba chenn la (1985), Vini Pou (1987), Majestik Zouk (1989), Difé (1995), Nou la (2000), All you need is Zouk (2007) etc. Kassav”s latest studio album is Sonjé (2013). The band always performed its songs in Creole.
Like several other members of Kassav’ (Patrick Saint-Éloi, Jean-Philippe Marthély, Jocelyne Béroard, Georges Décimus, Claude Vamur, Jean-Claude Naimro), Jacob Desvarieux also released solo albums : Banzawa (1983), Yélélé (with Georges Décimus, 1984, with the hit “Zouk la sé sèl médikaman nou ni”), Oh Madiana (1985), Gorée (1986) or Euphrasine’s Blues (1999). Euphrasine being his African ancestor found after genealogical research. In 2018, the artist used this album, released nearly 20 years earlier, to create the Nam Kann (The Soul of Cane) project, which pays tribute to all the slaves in Guadeloupe and Martinique who worked in the cane fields.
In 1987, Jacob Desvarieux launched the Rêve Antillais, which was a huge success ; Pascal Vallot was one of the winners of this great singing competition intended to promote this young music among young Guadeloupeans and Martinicans. At that time, zouk was at its peak, and fans from these two French Caribbean islands did not miss any Kassav’ concert, queuing for hours in front of the stadiums…
Jacob Desvarieux is nicknamed the boss, the businessman or the shark of the band, but thanks to his rigour and professionalism, he will be able to take Kassav’ to the biggest stages in the five continents to perform, each time, in front of thousands of spectators.
In Africa, the members of Kassav’ are welcomed as heads of state by screaming fans. In 1989, Kassav’ celebrated its 10th anniversary and became the first black musical band to perform in the USSR. In 2009, Kassav’ was the first French band to fill the Stade de France – 80,000 people – to celebrate its 30 years of existence.
In 1988, Jacob Desvarieux launched Le Grand Méchant Zouk. This mega-concert featured the best singers and musicians of the moment accompanied by the group Kassav’ and some guest musicians. In 2017, the 7th edition, which took place at the Zénith in Paris, was dedicated to another Guadeloupean monument of Zouk and former member of Kassav’, who died on December 18, 2010 : Patrick Saint-Éloi, the king of Zouk-Love.
From the 2000s onwards, Jacob Desvarieux began to collaborate with often younger artists, especially from the Caribbean and Africa, working in different musical genres (ragga, rap, dance hall, R&B etc.), zouk then took another colour. Among them : Jocelyne Labylle, Cheela and Passi (Laisse parler les gens, 2003), Lynnsha and Lady Sweety (Ma rivale, 2006), Admiral T and Jocelyne Béroard (Fòs a péyi la, 2007), Vick and Bayce (Viens bouger ton Botcho, 2010), Yola Araujo (E hoje ou nunca, 2011), T-Shaa and Misié Sadik (Ban nou misik, 2015), King Daddy Yod (Démaré mwen, 2018) Toofan (Ou lé, 2019) and Machel Montano (Dancè, 2019).
It should be noted that during his career, Jacob Desvarieux also collaborated in humanitarian works. In 2017, he was the patron of the association “1 pour tous, tous pour l’autisme”. The artist also received several honorary distinctions such as the insignia of the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres, in December 2020.
On May 11, 2019, 40,000 people gathered at the Paris La Défense Arena to see Kassav”s first anniversary concert, which celebrated its 40 years of existence. Then, the group started a big national tour that went through in Guadeloupe and Martinique and an international tour to celebrate the event but it was stopped because of the Covid-19 epidemic. Jacob Desvarieux remained on lockdown in his mother’s house in Saint-François, Guadeloupe, a place where he regularly came to relax among his family.
In 2021, after more than a year of waiting, the agenda of the band Kassav’ started again to fill up and the artist decided to redo this tour in Guadeloupe and Martinique that he had done in November 2018 in order to sing and play the blues of the sugar cane during his concert “Nanm Kann” accompanied by musicians and choristers he had chosen carefully. It was during these meetings in his Caribbean he was infected with Covid-19 and he left us : “He is now blessed among the eternal artists. We will remember him”, as one of his cousins, also an artist, said.