Xénia Caraïbe: a celebrity who cultivates simplicity

Singer Xénia Caraïbe is one of the few artists from Guadeloupe who performed on five continents. (Photo: Philippe Virapin)

Singer Xénia Caraïbe is one of the few artists from Guadeloupe who performed on five continents. Indeed, for many long years, she had the opportunity to work with many Caribbean, European, African and American artists, concerts that took her to twenty or so countries. For some ten years, she has been living in Guadeloupe where, quietly, she continues her career as a singer and designer of artistic projects.

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“I always knew that I would be an artist. In a very “mystical” way, I knew that I was part of this world, it was not a surprise”.

She has a rather rare first name, Xénia, and she has a surname which is that of the region where she lives, Caribbean (Caraïbe, in French). Often, people wanted to know her “real” first name and surname because they believed it was a stage name. This surname, she inherited it from her father who was the son of a Kalinago woman from the island of Dominica who had immigrated to Guadeloupe. Xénia Caraïbe was born in Senegal of Guadeloupean parents. Her father being a soldier, she traveled a lot with her family from a young age (Senegal, France, Guiana, etc.). Her father was also a saxophonist in the military orchestra so he decided to enroll his children at the Petit Conservatoire de Toulouse.“My brother and I learned there the rudiments of music theory, two years later, we moved back to Senegal then Marseille, but I was always a member of a dance and music association”, said Xénia. Later, her father got a contract for Central Africa, the young girl who decided to go to the Law Faculty of the University of Marseille did not accompany her parents on the African continent. “My father wanted me to pass the examination to become a lawyer. But I quickly stopped my law school to join “Les Flamboyants” then “Les Caraïbes” which was a real band led by Mr. Jacquelin. His wife and his daughters were also members of the band and, for nearly 5 years, we did some concerts throughout the south of France”, said the singer. She adapted quickly to this change of life which seemed to her even normal :“I always knew that I would be an artist. In a very “mystical” way, I knew that I was part of this world, it was not a surprise. Of course, I always liked to sing, but I’d never had posters of singers in my room, I was never a fan”, she said.

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“Many people do not know it because it’s not written on the jacket record but I sang the chorus on the album “Rêve Bleu” by Gilles Floro in 1986. I also sang on compositions by other Guadeloupean and Martinican artists”.

Roland Louis, a decisive meeting

In 1981, Xénia Caraïbe thought she had already reached a stage in the artistic life, she thought that the Mediterranean region was too small so she decided to go to Paris where her sister already lived. The young artist did several odd jobs (babysitting etc.) to earn a living but, as soon as the opportunity arose, she performed in shows in various places like the Youth and Culture Centres (MJC) where she sang of the “French variety”, Caribbean music, often for free. “Gradually, people liked my voice, the music. At that time in Paris, there was a huge musical mixing because of the World Wusic. In a band, there were several nationalities but each one of us had his artistic project”, she recalled. There, she met Roland Louis, the great pianist, conductor, arranger of David Martial’s songs among other artists, who also managed the recording sessions in studio. “He had apparently heard me sing somewhere and he told me he needed some voices”, said Xénia. This is how the singer will sing the chorus for several West Indian and African artists. “Many people do not know it because it’s not written on the jacket record but I sang the chorus on the album “Rêve Bleu” by Gilles Floro in 1986. I also sang on compositions by Guadeloupean and Martinican artists like Frédéric Caracas, Éric Brouta, José Versol, Freddy Marshall, Thimothey Hérelle etc; with the latter, I also went on tour. I collaborated with Lisette Malidor on a theatrical reading. I also sang with many African artists and groups”, she said.

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“I’ve already sung in a dozen languages” – Xénia Caraïbe with “Le Grand Orchestre de Rido Bayonne”

To sing with many great African artists

Indeed, this list of African artists with whom Xénia Caraïbe collaborated is very long. There are, for example, the very well-known Congolese musician (ex Zairian) Sam Mangwana; Congolese (ex Zairian) singer and guitarist Maïka Munan and the group “Tabala”; famous Congolese singer (ex Zairian) Tshala Muana; Malian singer and musician Rokia Traoré with whom the Guadeloupean will go on tour for two years in Europe, Canada, Japan and Australia; Ivorian drummer Tiacoh Sadia who will release the CD entitled “Zougnon Wa” with Xénia Caraïbes as lead singer; Cameroonian musician Gino Sitson; Togolese Allan Adoté with whom Xénia performed for three years at Eurodisneyland in a show entitled “Allan Adoté and Soul Connection”; “Le Grand Orchestra de Rido Bayonne” that the Guadeloupean artist does not considers just as a band but as “the best music school” she never had, because “Rido Bayonne who is a great man masters all musical styles”; the group “Nipa”, a sextet of African polyphony acappella composed of 3 boys and 3 girls from Ivory Coast, the United States, Martinique and Guadeloupe who sang in four languages (Ashanti, Akan, Abouré and Twi) and toured during ten years. “I’ve already sung in a dozen languages. Because I worked for many years with African artists, I can say that the languages are not difficult to remember, what is difficult is the rhythm of the music”, said Xénia Caraïbe.

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“These stars have very simple relationships with others” – Xénia Caraïbe on tour with the Dutch singer, Dave.

The backup singer for stars like Dave, Nicoletta, Gloria Gaynor …

In addition to collaborations with West Indian and African artists, the Guadeloupean worked in concerts and TV shows with European stars such as French singer Nicoletta, French singer Jean-Louis Aubert, Dutch singer Dave. “Dave is a great artist who has complete knowledge of the job and the audience, he gives his fans what they want, hence his very long career (…) Nicoletta phoned me personally. She had met me in “Le Grand Orchestre de Rido Bayonne”. These stars have very simple relationships with others”, she said. She also worked with Greek singer Nana Mouskouri for TV shows. “It was shows presented by Michel Drucker o Patrick Sébastian, they needed “real” singers because the audience was tired of play-back and wanted songs live”, said the singer. In addition, Xénia Caraïbe worked with American singing star Gloria Gaynor who is known more in France since the song “I will survive” that she performed in 1978 became the hymn of the French footballers after their victory at the 1998 Football World Cup. “It’s a great artist, a superb professional … who say “good morning”. It was Allan Adoté, the conductor, who called me to join the voice section on the occasion of a Gloria Gaynor’s big concert, the producers had built a city under tents in the desert for this festival in Tunisia”, she said. “It must also be said that in this world, we work in a network. The production companies often organize tours for several artists at the same time. Automatically, a musician sometimes can replace another. Moreover, to go on tour, to be with the same people for months, you need to be able to live in a group”, she continued.

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Xénia Caraïbe with the biguine master, Al Lirvat, on the occasion of the reopening of “Le Bal Nègre” in 2002.

The reopening of “Le Bal Nègre” in Paris in 2002

For many years, the artist travelled the world. In Europe, she sang in France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Finland, Belgium, Great Britain; in Africa, she performed in Tunisia, Senegal, Burkina Fasso, Chad; in Japan, she stopped in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka; in Australia, she made her voice heard in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sidney; in the United States, the tours stopped, among other cities, in New York, Boston, Seattle, Memphis, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles; in Canada, she went to Montreal, Vancouver and Harrison Hot Springs; in the Caribbean, she knows only Guadeloupe and Martinique but she would like to be known in other islands.

When she returned to Paris in 2002, Xénia Caraïbe and the famous musician Max Cornélie reopened with great fanfare “Le Bal Nègre” hall in Paris to organize shows there. This mythical place where all the great West Indian artists played biguine in the interwar and which was frequented by Mistinguett, Joséphine Baker, Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, had been closed for years. It was a real event in the French capital. At this opening, the “pillars of biguine” including Moune de Rivel, Jenny Alpha and Al Lirvat were present. “After a rehearsal for a tropical music gala, Max Cornélie and I had decided that it was necessary to give a little more reputation to our music especially those which made the beautiful days of the “Black Paris” in the years 1920 to 1960. So, we created “Récitals de la Musique Caraïbe” (Recitals of Caribbean Music), a project that led us to a hall in Choisy le Roi. This is where we will meet Jean-Pierre Meunier, the person in charge of the “Collection Musicale Caraïbe ” at Editions Frémaux, who will help us to open this temple of the culture of the roaring twenties”, said Xénia. For legal reasons, this famous concert venue did not keep its original name, it must be said that with societal changes, the word “negro” became very pejorative. The place which was renovated in 2017 is now called “Le Bal Blomet”

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In 1988, Xénia Caraïbe performed “Santiman Mwen”, a song in Creole in the film “L’Étudiante” by Claude Pinoteau with Sophie Marceau.

Different experiences in cinema

During her career, Xénia Caraïbe also knew the world of film. Indeed, in 1988, the singer performed “Santiman Mwen”, a song in Creole in the film “L’Étudiante” by Claude Pinoteau with Sophie Marceau. It was the producer Pierre Aubert with whom she had already collaborated who gave her the opportunity to work with famous film composer Vladimir Cosma. “The audition was fast and successful, I entered the studio the next week”, she said. She also worked for the television series “Tous en Boîte” on the French channel TF1, for the film and television series “Jean Galmot, Aventurier” as well as for the short film entitled “Il était une fois Sasha et Désiré” (2006) by Martinican director Cécile Vernant. The artist recalled very specifically these different experiences in the 7th art: “For “Tous en Boîte”, and “Jean Galmot, Aventurier”, these were mainly performances by artists, shooting days with friends… For “Il était une fois Sasha et Désiré”, I had to play my role of singer in the famous place “Le Bal Nègre” that my friends and I had re-opened in 2002, 40 years after its closing”. In addition, the soundtrack of the film “Il était une fois Sasha et Désiré” was performed by musicians Max Cornélie (contrabass) Gilbert Anasthase (vocals), Roland Malmain, (keyboard), Jean-Pierre Ismaël, (drum) Ti-Marcel (tenor sax), Daniel Misaine (violin) and Christian Jésophe (clarinet).

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“Transmission is one of the preservations of cultural identity. Culture is not a question but an answer”.

A discreet but active return to Guadeloupe

In 2006, Xénia Caraïbe returned permanently to Guadeloupe following her mother’s death, the year before. She who traveled the world and sang on very large stages in front of 20,000 people during fifteen years could have felt cramped in the island but she got used day after day to her new life as a “sedentary” singer. However, she never stopped singing because she did not wait for someone to come for her. She quickly understood that her “notoriety” could rather represent here a handicap for her. So, quietly, surrounded by serious professional musicians, she developped performance projects for example “Paris Biguine” or “Kafé Jasmin” that she presented to restaurants owners etc. The quality of her performances is now recognized and today her agenda is booked… “The job is the same on small or large stages, only the technical and financial means change. Indeed, I performed in front of 20,000 people, but I think that the hall with 200, 100 or 50 people is the most difficult”, said the artist. In addition, for eight years, Xénia Caraïbe has been a singing teacher at the Centre Culturel Sonis. She also animated a singing workshop at the CROUS of Fouillole, during 4 years. “Transmission is one of the preservations of cultural identity. Culture is not a question but an answer”, the artist concluded.