Rudy Benjamin, Mas Chief and Musician, died the same day as “Vaval”, the King of Carnival

Rudy Benjamin with his group VIM at the Pointe-à-Pitre parade on February 20, 2019 - Photo: Évelyne Chaville

The news came very early this Ash Wednesday: Rudy Benjamin, president of the carnival group “Very Important Mas” (VIM), had just died of a heart attack or pulmonary embolism (we did not know exactly) at his home in the town of Sainte-Rose. At first, many thought it was a hoax that social networks circulated, but the news was quickly verified and confirmed by the media. All Guadeloupe is in a state of shock because of this brutal news.

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Rudy Benjamin with his group VIM at the January 7, 2020 parade in Pointe-à-Pitre – Photo: Évelyne Chaville

This Mardi Gras, his group VIM was one of the first to take the start of the grand parade in Basse-Terre, and there was no indication that the famous carnival lover would leave this world in a few hours, even if he had health problems. Was it Rudy Benjamin’s fate, or had he decided to leave on Ash Wednesday, the last day of the festivities, as we were preparing the burning of King Vaval? One of his last statements was: “Mas chiefs die on Ash Wednesday because they are burned (…)”, according to legend…

After having been part of other “skin groups” (Akiyo, Point d’Interrogation), Rudy Benjamin founded “Very Important Mas” 20 years ago (2004), and the group celebrated this anniversary with pride. Moreover, the “Mas Chief” had composed the track “Symphonie Porcelaine” with the members of his group, which enhanced the sounds of traditional instruments present in carnival music, especially the conch, used for centuries by the peoples of the Caribbean. He wanted other musicians to take ownership of this composition and add their personal touch, their own notes…

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Rudy Benjamin with his group VIM at the March 3, 2019 parade in Pointe-à-Pitre – Photo: Évelyne Chaville

If Rudy Benjamin was always smiling, he also had to “take” a lot of criticism, particularly about the parades where the men and especially the women of VIM were dressed in outfits that almost did not hide their private parts. The “Latex Bandex” parade through Pointe-à-Pitre of the last few days, which took place late at night, had again caused indignation of some Guadeloupeans. Was it to imitate what happens in certain Caribbean carnivals, notably in the English-speaking islands, that VIM adopted this “sado-maso” costume?

Even if for Rudy Benjamin carnival was first and foremost mockery, could his artistic sensibility withstand the wave of discontent, with some calling him a “pimp” and accusing him of deliberately putting naked women on the streets?

However, everyone recognized that as a musician, Rudy Benjamin had brought a particular color to VIM’s music, to Guadeloupean carnival music. During Sunday evening carnival parades in the streets of Pointe-à-Pitre, when you heard the famous “tak, tak, tak…tak, tak” on the two pieces of wood, you knew that it was his band that was coming. VIM’s music is unanimously acclaimed.

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Rudy Benjamin with his group VIM at the February 20, 2019 parade in Pointe-à-Pitre – Photo: Évelyne Chaville

38 years ago (1986), Rudy Benjamin (keyboardist) was also one of the founding members of Dissonance, a Creole sound but with various influences. Over the years, this band has become a “reference for very good music”, as some fans say.

Almost 30 years ago (in 1996), someone introduced me to Rudy Benjamin, and the three of us had a drink in Pointe-à-Pitre. The man spoke passionately about music, his music, and said he had big plans for Dissonance, wanting this new music born in Guadeloupe to travel the world like Kassav’ zouk… But the success of Dissonance, with its hits “Zouk Love”, “Anti-Star”“Chance” or “Chanson éternelle“, rather remained within the French West Indian and Guyanese community. This is surely the musician’s biggest disappointment.

This Ash Wednesday, which was supposed to be the last day of jubilation closing the carnival period, ended in sadness and recollection for VIM’s members, their fans and other “skin groups”.

In a post, his son Axel Benjamin, who should continue the work of his father, informed everyone that there will be no parade in the streets, the association’s premises, located in the Lauricisque district of Pointe-à-Pitre, will be open to close the 2024 Carnival with music, and no speeches will be made.

Rudy Benjamin was 65 years old.

Video: Évelyne Chaville