Didier Juste : percussion as a vocation

Didier Juste: "My parents being artists, they always encouraged me to play music and, very young, at the age of 8, I already went with them to concerts".

At 48, the percussionist Didier Juste has already a 38-year career in music. He has already accompanied on stage almost all artists from Guadeloupe as well as some artists from Martinique, Guyana and elsewhere. For 13 years, he has been sharing his knowledge with young people. Today, he is working on his first album.

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Didier Juste with his mother and the famous “tanbouyé” Marcel Lollia known as “Vélo”

Didier Juste was born in Champigny-sur-Marne (France) in 1970, the next year, his parents decided to move back to Guadeloupe. His father, the artist-painter Rico Roberto and his mother who was a dancer took him to “lewòz” from an early age. “I started playing music at the age of 3. I was raised in music. When I was a boy, my parents picked me up at Raphaël Jolivière School in Pointe-à-Pitre. We walked down Légitimus Boulevard and we stopped at the entrance of Frébault Street to see “Vélo” (Marcel Lollia) playing ka. My parents being artists, they always encouraged me to play music and, very young, at the age of 8, I already went with them to concerts (…)”, he said. Then, one day, something exceptional happened : the ka-master finally gave him permission to touch his sacred instrument and then, to play ka with him. Perhaps he had detected in that little boy a natural aptitude for music… “My brother Olivier and I, we had that unique opportunity, that privilege of playing gwoka with his instrument. So, I began in the street”, he said.

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A first concert at age 10

Marcel Lollia (1938-1984) was not the only ka-master that Didier Juste will know. There will be also François Moléon Jernidier, nicknamed Carnot (1919-1998), François Hyzirin, nicknamed Baggy, Guy Konkèt (1946-2012), among others.

Indeed, because he was not attracted by studies, the young man chose what he can do : music. His first concert, Didier did it at 10, he accompanied the famous singer and “tanbouyé” Guy Konkèt. After, everything came together, he met other musicians but he also discovered other percussion instruments and other rhythms.“At the age of 15, I went with the band “Katouré” to Cuba. There, I saw that there were other percussions and I understood that I did not have to play only the 7 rhythms of gwoka music. Later, I took drum lessons with Fernand Gabriel, I followed several training courses in percussion with African artists such as Adama Dramé, Pap Dyen and Geum”, he said.

Like many young Guadeloupean musicians, Didier Juste went on an adventure to Paris, and he stayed there only one month… After his return to Guadeloupe, he joined the group “Poker JBZ” created by the Castry brothers, then he collaborated with several other bands. Note that his brother, Olivier, also became a percussionist while his youngest brother, Sidy, chose to be a lawyer…

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Didier Juste with Tanya Saint-Val, Jean-Michel Rotin, Dominique Bérose…

The creator of the band “Soft”

During his career which represents 38 years, Didier Juste played with almost all artists from Guadeloupe, he also accompanied several artists from Martinique, Guiana and other countries. The list would be too long to name each one individually… “It’s word of mouth. The artists send us the songs, we rehearse them to be ready the day of the concert”, he said. Indeed, it was exactly what happened, last October, on the occasion of the concert by Guyanese singer and guitarist, Sylviane Cédia, at the “Festival Bleu Outre Mer”, one of the latest performances by the musician.

There is something that many people do not know in Didier Juste’s career : in 2003, he created the group “Soft” which is led now by Fred Deshayes. Philippe Sadikalay, the saxophonist, will find the name of the band – “Soft” – just before the first concert in Lakaza. “At the beginning, the idea was to make new versions of gwoka songs, like what the “K’Koustik” band is doing now. When we played the first part of Kenny Garrett’s concert, in January 2003 in Lakaza, the audience enjoyed our performance and wanted an album not with cover versions but with our own compositions. Fred Deshayes had already some compositions that we recorded (…)”, he explained. Finally, this collaboration will be bad and, with a heavy heart, after a concert in Martinique, Didier Juste will be “forced” to leave the band he had created… Today, he very rarely meets the members of “Soft”. “After this experience, I told myself that I have to stand up and that’s what I did. I have no regrets, life goes on”, said the musician.

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Didier Juste with Sona Jobarteh

“Carte Blanche” in the 2016 ÎloJazz Festival

In December 2016, the “ÎloJazz Festival” in Guadeloupe gave him the “Carte Blanche” to express himself in front of a knowledgeable audience with special guest the composer, singer and musician of Gambian and English origin, Sona Jobarteh. His concert was very well, however he noticed that some artists he used to accompany on stage did not contact him anymore… “We are not supportive enough in Guadeloupe (…)”, he said.

In addition, the musician underlined the secondary place sometimes that is attributed to the percussionist in the group : “Some people think that playing percussion is like making noise. If they have to eliminate an instrument, it is often percussion. A great musician like Charly Chomereau-Lamothe had to go abroad to have a career”, said the percussionist.

He also regretted the stagnation of music and culture in the island. “In recent years, I have the impression that we are not evolving in Guadeloupe, we are regressing while we have some good people to think bigger. Previously, we were more limited but we had many more creations and choices. In my opinion, Guadeloupe would need a real cultural policy. With regard to gwoka, we have to educate people about this music.There are artists who released very beautiful albums, we do not hear them on the radio”, said the artist.

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A jazzy album in preparation

For 13 years, Didier Juste has been a teaching staff member at the Centre Culturel Sonis (Abymes) where he teaches percussion to girls and boys of all ages. “I pass on my knowledge. It’s true that I am one of the few musicians who stayed in Guadeloupe but if I travel, who will do the job here ? I prefer to stay here, for the moment, even if it’s hard”, he said.

For some time now, the percussionist has been working on his first album which will be released this year or next year. This record will have 10 tracks and guests like Admiral T, Dominique Coco, Dory etc. “Contrary to what one might think, there will not be many percussion instruments, this album will be rather “soft” with lots of jazzy compositions. I’m trying to bring a new musical color, I like to innovate”, he said.

When Didier Juste is not on stage, does not give lessons to his students or is not in studio to perfect his next record, he enjoys the beauty of his island. “I really like nature. Sometimes, I discover places that many people do not know, they tell me because I take pictures that I put on social networks (…)”, he said cheerfully.