Kassav’ celebrates its 40 years, do our young people spit on zouk?

Kassav' concert at the Baie-Mahault stadium in 2013 (GUADELOUPE)

Kassav’ celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2019 and many Guadeloupean and Martinican young people say that they do not want to sing or play this “doudou-chéri” music. So, they prefer to borrow from the Americans their jazz or from the Jamaicans their dance hall and they think that they will have a career where these musical rhythms were born. Unfortunately, they have very few opportunities there and many will remain local stars. And even if they manage to make a name for themselves in the USA or elsewhere, they will always be asked what are the musical rhythms from their island and they will be forced to mention zouk among other local music…

Nature abhors a vacuum, other artists from elsewhere have understood the richness of this music that was born in our island. This is how the Cape Verdeans and Angolans grabbed zouk by changing the tempo slightly and called it “kizomba”; some even come to Guadeloupe to teach us how to dance this so-called new music which is, in fact, our own music “seasoned” differently… The Angolans even inaugurated in 2012 the “House of Zouk” in the presence of Pierre-Édouard Décimus and Jacob Desvarieux, two mainstays in Kassav’; this museum in praise of our music (the only one in the world) brings together about 10,000 records, those of Kassav’ but also those of other stars of zouk from Guadeloupe and Martinique. The Brazilians who also speak Portuguese have had the same reaction: they adopted zouk…

Now, the Haitians have decided to grab zouk and put it in their own way. Indeed, for some time now, there is a real wave of music from Haitian groups, some have concocted a clever mix of kompa and zouk with lyrics of love in Creole and even in French (the famous “doudou-chéri” that some criticize here), female leads, female backup voices, in short all the ingredients to make a good zouk-love… Why name these groups or artists if we know that all will step up to refute this observation? Patrick Saint-Éloi (ex member of Kassav’), nicknamed the king of zouk-love, died in 2010, is there now a place to take?

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The come back of Haitian kompa

It’s quite paradoxical: the Haitian kompa which was in Guadeloupe and Martinique the leading music in the 1960s-1970s whose influence was stopped by zouk in the 1980s has picked up recently. And, the Guadeloupean and Martinican audience seems to like very much this kind of kompa zouk-love because these Haitian groups are at the top of the charts. One of them will be in concert on the island of La Desirade at Easter and we imagine that many fans will go by boat to see it on stage.

Some of our zouk artists are also seduced by this Haitian zouk-love kompa and adopted it. Soon, the “pure zouk” will not have many people to defend it… except Kassav’, its creator…

Moreover, now in Guadeloupe, almost all the radios and all the nightclubs on the island offer programmes or evenings dedicated to kompa... The phenomenon is similar in Martinique. In fact, kompa had not been so well for several years. During the Route du Rhum-Destination Guadeloupe, the crowd discovered two groups of young Guadeloupean musicians – one of them came from the island of Terre-de-Bas in Les Saintes – who play kompa and who have no cause to be jealous of famous bands from Haiti. But these are exceptions.

Should we condemn our young people who reject zouk and prefer dance hall to all other music? It’s a bit difficult because when we were younger, many of us loved the American funk for example, collected posters of American stars and dreamed of going to the “States”. Today, our young people do not listen general radio stations, they have at their disposal “radios for young people” that bottle-feed them with all sorts of music from elsewhere and among these, there is dance hall; at the end they are completely uprooted, they identify with Jamaican reggae-dance hall singers and think that, in this Caribbean island, the whole population wears “locks”…

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Kassav’ does not make our young people dream

It must be said that in Guadeloupe, we have a certain propensity to love everything that comes from foreign countries and give no importance to what our compatriots do, what is ours. But when a foreigner arrives and sometimes copies what we are doing, immediately, we put him on a pedestral. For example, for 25 years, a Cuban singer and pianist has passed herself off as a big star on her island. When she died, last year, Kariculture.net re-established the truth by asking in Cuba if she was well-known : we were told “no conozco”. But during all these years, some politicians, persons in charge of culture and even an association dedicate to cooperation in the Caribbean believed that this artist was an “emissary” of the Cuban government, they treated her like a “queen”. Can we criticize this Cuban artist? No! There is a saying that goes : “Fo-w ba moun la sa moun la enmé pou moun la enmé-w” (literal translation: you have to give people what people like to make people love you).

Since we must find the reasons why young people reject zouk, we can also mention the creators of zouk themselves. In the 1980s and 1990s, Kassav’ had the opportunity to launch young artists (Pascal Vallot in 1987, for example) especially through its singing competition “Le Rêve Antillais”, its members also collaborated on the production of local artists albums (Joëlle Ursull, Jean-Michel Rotin etc.). But these days, Kassav’ is not as involved as it was thirty years ago in the transmission of zouk. It’s true that the band does not have much time because it is often on tour around the world. Indeed, in recent years, because of the collapse of the sale of records, artists must make longer tours to bring money back to producers and Kassav’ is not the only band affected by this phenomenon. In France, artists give many concerts in the provinces while the Caribbean group perform a lot abroad, it has also become the first French group that travels around the world. Even if some members of Kassav’ develop some external collaborations, now the “historical leader of zouk” preserves rather its “progress”.

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An orphaned International Zouk Festival

In addition, there is an International Zouk Festival (FIZ) in Guadeloupe, initiated by lovers of this music. Certainly, we might wonder what legitimacy these people had to create this event when they did not invent this music and they are not even zouk musicians or singers. However, they have the merit of having launch this Festival to defend this heritage when some people were orchestrating a smear campaign against zouk they considered only as a “doudou-chéri” music while the country had so many problems to solve; this statement is false because zouk also speaks about serious themes… This Festival does not bring back money to the association under the Law of 1901 which organizes it and it has been struggling for 12 years for lack of important public subsidies.

Martinique will organize the 4th edition of its Zouk Festival this year.

We cannot say that Kassav’ members are rushing to help and perpetuate this Festival. Patrick Saint-Éloi supported the FIZ in his lifetime and, with his discretion, he came to attend preparatory meetings; Pierre-Édouard Décimus, one of the founding members of Kassav’ who lives in Guadeloupe, now gives favourable consideration to this event. Jacob Desvarieux would have said that the organizers had never contacted him. But, it is never too late to do the right thing…

In Angola, there is also a Zouk Festival : on September 15, 2018, in Luanda, the capital of this African country, Le Grand Méchant Zouk was on stage and on September 16, 2018, Kassav’ gave a concert.

Some optimistic minds think that zouk is not in danger, it evolves differently with external contributions. In 1989, the famous American trumpet player Miles Davis said that “zouk is the music of the future”. 30 years later, the observation is clear : many young Guadeloupeans and Martinicans spit on zouk.