Founded in 1986, the Kasika association is a pillar of culture in the town of Capesterre Belle-Eau and Guadeloupe. Every year, Christmas and Carnival are the two major popular festivals chosen by its members to show their creativity. On the occasion of the release of Kasika‘s 10th album – the orchestra was created in 1988 – KARICULTURE.NET discussed with Moïse Benjamin known as “Benzo”. The leader and saxophonist of the most famous group of “chanté Nwèl” (Sing Christmas) on the island told us its genesis.
This 10th album of the group Kasika, entitled “Sans Frontières” (Without Borders), that will be released at the end of November, will be composed of 11 songs, ie 10 Christmas songs and 1 carnival song. In the songs dedicated to Christmas, the group visits several rhythms : 7 biguine, 1 dombélé (a reference to Africa), 1 gospel, 1 zouk mixed with African soukous for a new version of “Michaux Veillait”, one of the essential songs of the Christmas period in Guadeloupe.
As usual, all the members participated in the realization of the album. “It is a group work because each person proposes his melody or his lyrics. Then, the whole team works together to embellish each song but the author of the music or the text is the person who made the proposal”, said Moïse Benjamin called “Benzo”, the leader and saxophonist of the orchestra. Note that Kasika is comprised of 12 musicians, 10 female singers and 3 male singers.
For four weeks – from the end of November until Christmas Eve, a period that represents Advent time – Kasika will be invited in many “chanté Nwèl” on the island.
Kasika’s “chanté Nwèl” very appreciated by the Church
In addition, every year, Kasika band travels to promote Guadeloupe’s “chanté Nwèl”. In particular, it participated in Paris Fair and the Festival de l’Erdre in Nantes, where it met Cuban musicians who very much enjoyed its show. On December 9th, the musicians and singers of the band will perform again at the Parc de la Villette in Paris during the 4th edition of “Noël Solidaire des Outre-Mer”, organized by the Association des Jeunes de Guadeloupe (AJEG).
As for the Roman Catholic Church in Guadeloupe, it considers in a positive way these “chanté Nwèl” which are very festive and very dancing and which draw thousands of people every year. “This crowd is our fuel. It’s a time when all sectors of society meet. It’s an outlet. We have never heard that there were broken cars or fights in a chanté Nwèl. As happens every year, Kasika will be present at the celebration of Christmas Mass. For the Mass of December 24 in the church of Capesterre Belle-Eau, it is “Bondyé Ban Nou Lanmou”, a beautiful text written by Fabienne Bordin, one of the singers of the band, who was chosen. The new priest of the parish who is of Haitian origin is really glad to work with Kasika, he already knew the band”, said Benzo. It must be said that Kasika‘s songs do not have any obscene words, that is not the case for the compositions of some groups that play during “chanté Nwèl” while Christmas is first a religious festival…
A large presence of the family in Kasika
The Kasika orchestra (the same name as the association which was founded in 1986) is a family “business”. Indeed, almost all members are children or grandchildren of Moïse Benjamin’s family.
The adventure started in 1988 when Benzo and his family members decided to make nice their neighborhood at Fonds Cacao in Capesterre Belle-Eau by singing Christmas songs with music played by real instruments but also by makeshift instruments.
“For this first time, musicians over 50 had played in the first part ; my father was still alive. We were over 40 on stage. In a film that was shot at the time, we see current artists like the Nara brothers who were 12 or 13 years old, Thierry Delannay etc. (…) My friends from the “Office Municipal de la Culture et des Sports” of Capesterre Belle-Eau I had invited to this party told me to put this concept on a podium. They asked me to share this Christmas traditional atmosphere with others, especially with people who live in buildings and can no longer go from house to house as we used to do. The word “share” made the difference”, told the leader of Kasika.
A first album recorded in the rehearsal space
Benzo and the members of the group accepted provided that the podium was transformed into a small house of yesteryear with photos stuck on the walls, fruits, flowers, a banana tree etc. Moreover, Benzo demanded that the “chanté Nwèl” where they performed be free of charge for the public.
In 1995, Kasika that played especially for the family and then in the districts of the town of Capesterre Belle-Eau, started a new career. At the request of the municipality of Pointe-à-Pitre, the orchestra performed during a big “chanté Nwèl” on the Place de la Victoire. Obviously, the decor of the podium represented a small traditional house… “We were already excellent musicians. We were already perfectionists. I must say that we rehearsed in our local in Fonds Cacao in the dark so that everyone was focused on the music. A music producer (Déclic Communication) who was there thought it was a record that was playing, but when he saw that it was a band, he became “crazy”, he rushed and asked, “where is the person in charge?”, said Benzo.
Benzo’s mother, the inspirer of the first 3 albums
A first album is recorded that same year with song titles such as “Man Dòdò”. In order not to have any small technical problems in a “normal” studio, this album was recorded live in the group’s rehearsal space after some soundproofing work with egg trays and carpets, for example. “Nobody believed that we had recorded in this room. We were 32 members for the Christmas songs and 46 for the Carnival songs. That Saturday, we started at 8:00 pm and finished at 11:45 pm. In fact, all our albums are recorded live, we only redo the voices”, said Benzo.
An exceptional thing : all the Christmas atmospheres of yesteryear on the first three albums of the group were communicated by Benzo’s mother and then were arranged by the orchestra ; she remembered the songs that her own mother hummed at this time of the year… “My mother is 88 years old today, she is my living library”, added Benzo.
The sudden death of accordionist Éric Minatchy
Kasika is joy but, in 2012, the group went through a terrible time. Its accordionist Éric Minatchy (aged 46) died suddenly because of a heart attack. The first two years after his death were very difficult for the group. “We miss him.The first year, at “Jarry en Fête” in Baie-Mahault, all the members were sad and cried. On stage, I was on the verge of crying because both we always played in tandem, so I closed my eyes to finish the song (…) I met him when he was a child, he was 5 or 6 years old and he could not even see over his grandmother’s grocery store counter. His father was an accordionist and even if he could not hold the instrument at that age, he pressed the keys to try to play. Several years later, in 1989, I went to get him so that he joined the band. I explained the concept to him and I convinced him ; at the time, he had abandoned the accordion and played piano in another band. He was a great musician and Kasika’s core base”, explained Benzo.
Kasika y solidarity
The Kasika association, chaired by Pierre Gobing, manage all the money of the concerts that is used to pay excursions, travel, purchases of materials such as fabric for costumes, especially to help parents with two or three children who participate in carnival parades etc. So there is no personal gain, according to Benzo.
This orchestra that will celebrate next year its 30 years of existence still has many cultural projects. Among them, a musical, written by Benzo, in which Kasika’s Christmas songs are staged.
In addition, in order to help the inhabitants of Dominica who are very affected by Hurricane Maria, the group intends to propose to the organizers of “Jarry en Fête” in next December to collect donations (dried vegetables, canned food, drinks, etc.). With 15,000 people who go annually to this big Christmas market, the members of Kasika hope to easily fill two containers for Dominican victims.