Zouk and Konpa got married… Why?

These last months and especially during these school holidays of July and August, we were invaded by a rather special music : a mixture of zouk from Guadeloupe & Martinique and konpa from Haiti.

2-Harmonik, Festival Culturel de Fort-de-France 2019

We often think to listen to zouk but right in the middle of the song, we see that the tempo has changed and it is konpa. In Guadeloupe and Martinique, some call this new rhythm “zouk-konpa”, in Haiti, “konpa-zouk”. How to explain this musical trend?

Some maintain that since many young Guadeloupeans and Martinicans prefer to explore the Jamaican dance hall and reject zouk that was created at home, Haitians – especially those living in Miami – saw the richness of this music and the profits they could make from it and they adapted it to their konpa. Recently, during a meeting on zouk, a Guadeloupean working in the media said he was very surprised to meet only Haitians in the organization of an event on zouk in Miami, Florida…

The most pessimistic claim that zouk music is disappearing, the most optimistic think it is changing. The same could be said about konpa. In recent months, a Haitian group – Harmonik – is a big hit in Guadeloupe and Martinique with this mix of konpa and zouk. One of its prominent members and representative of this new musical style is none other than Nickenson Prudhomme, who has been working for years with zouk artists (Warren, Face à Face, Tina Ly, Ali Angel, Dominique Lorté etc…)

3-Tabou Combo

Zouk artists seduced by konpa

We quickly realized that our zouk artists from Guadeloupe and Martinique (and Guiana) living in the Caribbean, in Europe or in other places liked this mix of the two Caribbean rhythms. So they adopted this new musical style too.

To explain this sudden fad, some say that the majority of our young artists knew only zouk and considered konpa as a music for “old people”, so dedicated to their parents and grandparents (it is also the same comments that many young people make now about zouk…) They ended up discovering the beauty of this music from Haiti especially through young groups (Carimi until 2016, Vyab, Kréyol la, T-Kabzy etc.) which offer a very modern konpa.

For others, this mixture of two rhythms proves that there is a lack of inspiration.

For still others, there is mostly big money involved that is intended to win over fans in Guadeloupe, Martinique, Haiti, France, USA and elsewhere.

Finally, the most indifferent people think that it is only a fashion and soon everyone will return to pure zouk and pure konpa.

However, who would have said that one day these two rhythms would have been closer and even mixed? Forty years ago, would we have planned this marriage between these two Caribbean rhythms?


The “Konpamania” era

When zouk was created more than forty years ago, its first “mission” was to “uproot” konpa in Guadeloupe and Martinique. Indeed, Guadeloupeans and Martinicans aged 45 years and older experienced this “konpamania” : they all heard this Haitian music on the radio; they all saw their parents buy records and play this music on the record player and the hi-fi system on the occasion of baptisms, first communions, confirmations, weddings, birthdays etc; they heard this music in buses and collective taxis; they heard, saw or read the interviews of groups on tour here because Guadeloupe and Martinique were the places to go for all successful konpa groups; they heard of or were at their mythical concerts in the big halls or nightclubs at the time… In short, konpa created in 1955 by Nemours Jean-Baptiste was everywhere even if kadans (another music whose roots are Haitian) played and adapted by Guadeloupean and Martinican musicians – with among others Les Vikings, Les Léopards, Typical Combo, Les Aiglons, Les Maxells, La Perfecta, Super Combo, La Sélecta, La Protesta, Expérience 7, Georges Plonquitte, Simon Jurad et Opération 78 resisted as best it could. In spite of this domination of konpa, no one questioned the beauty of this Caribbean music, the talent of Haitian musicians who made young and old people dance… Moreover, these groups knew that their fans were very numerous in Guadeloupe and Martinique and, in their songs, they often mentioned the places where they had played in these two islands…


Hurricane Zouk’s damage

Today, no one has forgotten the names of these famous konpa bands from Haiti or from the Haitian diaspora living in the USA: Shleu-Shleu, Skah Shah, Tabou Combo, Bossa Combo, Frères Déjean, Magnum Band, Coupé Cloué, Scorpio, Ti Manno et le Gemini All Stars, Mini All Stars, Volo Volo, DP Express, Djet-X, among others. Some fans keep their vinyl record collection as a treasure.

In 1978, came on stage Kassav’, this zouk group created by Guadeloupean musicians Pierre-Édouard Décimus and Jacob Desvarieux whose members are from Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Attracted by this new zouk, other bands were going to be formed and a vast number of singers started a solo career and became real stars…the gossip say that if you did not release an album at that time you did not want it! Everyone added his contribution to this new music with various “colors”.

And from the 1980s, Haitian bands spent time in the wilderness on these two French Departments of America even if a more modern konpa music launched by a new generation of groups (Top Vice, Digital Express, for example) continued to seduce fans; even if the most famous bands such as Tabou Combo or Magnum Band continued to perform in short, to resist, supported by their many fans who are the “over-fifties” category ; Tabou Combo will be in concert in Guadeloupe on October 19, 2019 to celebrate its 52th anniversary…

6-Kassav' 2

Exit the French variety

Zouk music not only curbed the influence of Haitian konpa, it also swept away the French variety in Guadeloupe and Martinique. Indeed, we often forget that many of us (young girls in particular) had our “songbook” with hits by Claude François, Johnny Hallyday, Sylvie Vartan, Sheila, Ringo, Dalida, Eddy Mitchell, Joe Dassin, Julien Clerc, Michel Sardou, Michel Berger, France Gall, Michel Delpech, Véronique Sanson, Dave, Michel Fugain, Alain Souchon, Laurent Voulzy etc. The French from France are always very surprised to know that we had this passion for French song in the tropics and we knew these French stars as well as they did… Some of us even had the opportunity to buy magazines like OK or Podium to cut the lyrics of the songs and stick them in their famous “songbook” or take the posters…

In 2019, if Kassav’ began its international tour to celebrate its 40th anniversary, konpa made its comeback through the many radio programs and parties dedicated to it in Guadeloupe and Martinique ; its audience remains people aged 50 and over.

As for the mix of zouk and konpa which is now a great success, not only it attracts younger artists playing these two Caribbean musics but also younger fans. Should we see a new form of competition between the two rhythms? Which one will win : zouk-konpa or konpa-zouk?