Why do Guadeloupean singers and musicians leave their island?

Le Zénith in Paris (FRANCE)

For several years now, there has been a real migration of Guadeloupean singers and musicians to France and, sometimes, to Great Britain.

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To explain this massive departure of our artists, first we have to wonder about the record industry, the role of the media, the organization of shows, in brief, about the Guadeloupe’s cultural policy.

The main production companies like Disques Debs, Moradisc or Liso Music are no longer relevant. The Guadeloupean audiovisual landscape (PAG), for its part, evolved. For example, the famous musical programme “Partition” which was broadcast on the national-local channel RFO Guadeloupe (now, Guadeloupe 1ère) as well as music videos were removed from the programme schedule… Fortunately, the Internet came out! Many large nightclubs which organized shows have closed their doors. The cemetery of music festivals is growing…

In Guadeloupe, we prefer to give EUR 10,000 and more to artists from elsewhere to sing with backing track in a big festival or put on a pedestal artists who represent nothing in their own country and ignore local artists. The worst part is that many officials in this country think this situation is normal…

It should also be noted that many of our artists are not ready to perform on small local stages (restaurants, bars etc.) to earn a living, this kind of project is rather planned at the end of their career or after discovering the great stages in France and abroad.

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The wind of “World Music”

Artists who leave their island to travel to Europe are looking for better work opportunities. But, do these opportunities to have a great career over there really exist?

In the 1980s and 1990s, the wind of “World Music” was blowing on Paris. Suddenly, France, a conservative country par excellence, discovered that there are talented artists in Guadeloupe and its other Overseas Departments and Territories. Some artists and groups like Kassav’, Zouk Machine, Tanya Saint-Val, Joëlle Ursull or Francky Vincent were in the spotlight. They entered the major labels with all the avantages this brings. They were invited in variety shows like “Champs Élysées” on the TV channel Antenne 2 (today, France 2) with the famous “French artists from France” and, for nothing in the world, Guadeloupeans in Guadeloupe and Guadeloupeans in France did not miss these TV moments they considered a recognition (finally!) of their talent by the French media. In addition, their video clips were broadcast on major television channels like M6.

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An audience composed primarly of West Indians

Since then, things changed a lot. First, the French audiovisual landscape (PAF) also underwent a profound change and the very popular variety programs went out the window… Then, the “World Music” fashion diminished. And sometimes, it’s not good to sing in Creole on the French stages; just a few words to sound “exotic” but not more…

Since this beautiful time, no Guadeloupean artist really got into show-business at the national level. However, the new generation of singers (in particular zouk artists) sing in French, they are understood by a wider audience but we cannot say that their career is national even if the pay TV channel, Trace TV, broadcasts their song videos.

There is, despite all, a positive point that we can stress: now, many more Guadeloupean artists perform in mythical places in the French capital (Olympia, Bercy, Le Zénith, Bataclan, New Morning etc.)… but in front of an audience composed of a very large majority of West Indians. But, if national media covered the concerts by “French stars from France” and stars from foreign countries (England, USA…) in these Parisian entertainment venues, they are entirely silent about our artists… There are also some artists who regularly perform on small stages, especially in the province.

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What about “star system”?

In 2008, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (INSEE), out of 364,800 people from French Overseas Departments living in France, 115,400 were Guadeloupeans (117,000 Martinicans, 24,000 Guyanese, 108,000 people from Réunion). This is an additional market for our artists but, if the parents listen to Caribbean music, their children may prefer French or American rap…

But, are Guadeloupean people living in France “organized”? Do they support each other? Do those earning a lot of money invest in events or places to allow our artists to express themselves regularly and promote our culture? The answer is no.

Is “star system” responsible for the systematic departure of our artists to France? Guadeloupe with its 1704 km2 is certainly too small to remain anonymous, protect the privacy of some artists who are or think they are stars and who, therefore, do not want to meet every day people from the island and risk falling into banality. So, should we believe those who say that many of our artists lock themselves in flats in the suburbs of Paris and provinces to say they are touring abroad or in a recording studio?

What is certain is that, unfortunately, many of our artists who chose to leave Guadeloupe to live in France do not make a living from their art.

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