Nicole Favières, Festival du Zouk de Guadeloupe: “What are we doing to highlight zouk music?

Nicole Favières-Bourguignon next to the bust of the singer and musician Patrick Saint-Éloi she made

From July 22 to August 2, the 10th edition of the International Zouk Festival (FIZ) took place in Guadeloupe. A rich programme was offered to the public to enhance a music born in Guadeloupe. had a meeting with Nicole Favières-Bourguignon, a sculptor in charge of the Art Exhibit which has been integrated into the FIZ for seven years, in order to take stock of the 10 years of existence for a musical event that is nevertheless part of our cultural identity but the major public authorities of the island do not support financially as they should.

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KARICULTURE.NET: We hear about the International Zouk Festival of Guadeloupe (FIZ) but we know a little less its organizers, who are you? Why did you decide to organize this festival?

Nicole Favières-Bourguignon: The origin of the project is the meeting between a musician and a tourism professional in search of a project which was both 100% West-Indian and had an international dimension; zouk proved to be the best parameter for such an operation, this music having travelled all over the world.

Mister Eugène Louisor is the initiator of the Zouk Festival, he is a tourism professional who likes zouk music and who wanted to associate it with the destinations of Guadeloupe and Martinique as salsa is associated with Cuba or reggae with Jamaica. We met a certain denigration of zouk by some people in Guadeloupe who said “that is not valuable” so we realized that our image was not pretty. However, zouk is the modern form of our different music, it has its roots in gwo ka, quadrille etc. We decided to restore the prestige of zouk and to allow our young people to appropriate this music that represents their roots, their identity.

The International Zouk Festival of Guadeloupe is an association under the French Law of 1901. Among our many volunteers, there are the drummer Rudy Lévis who is the musical coordinator and Cédric Brute is the technical manager.

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KARICULTURE.NET: How do the creators of zouk music, the members of Kassav’, including Pierre-Édouard Decimus (the founder of the group), see this International Zouk Festival of Guadeloupe ? And zouk artists ?

Nicole Favières-Bourguignon: Everybody appreciates the existence of this festival. It is true that some people wonder about our legitimacy to organize such a festival. We derive our legitimacy from the fact that we are Guadeloupean people, the history of Guadeloupe is ours and we want to defend our culture. The first band we contacted for this festival was Kassav’ but the cost was too high for our budget. We have not abandoned this project, we will invite Kassav’ as soon as we have the financial resources… In 2016, Pierre-Édouard Decimus attended a conference on zouk organized during the FIZ, he told us that he supported us. We offered him to be the sponsor of an upcoming festival.

When we set up the festival, we organized our meetings in my mother’s house in Pointe-à-Pitre, Patrick Saint-Éloi who was, as we know, a very discreet person visited us, he talked regularly with Mr. Louisor and he encouraged us. In 2005, he wrote the text that serves as the engine for the FIZ: “In order to perpetuate zouk, this music that is ours, we needed an event. This event will be the FIZ, the International Zouk Festival. Finally, we have the opportunity to realize this project dear to all of us (musicians and Caribbean people), because we know deep inside ourselves that it will be an immense platform for cultural exchanges with the world, because zouk music is played in numerous countries, even if we tend to ignore it. Many thanks to all those who made this Zouk Festival possible. We are counting on you to never forget that: Zouk la sé tan nou, Sé nou ki Fey! Fo nou fey viv, Pou nou pa jen oubliyé, ki moun nou yé. (Zouk belongs to us! We are the ones who did it! We have to make it live so that we never forget who we are).

Médhy Custos was the first artist to sing at the FIZ during the presentation of the project in 2003 at the Domaine de Vallombreuse in Petit-Bourg.

Caribbean professional musicians and zouk defenders surround this project. From the beginning, we are accompanied by Grégory Custos, Rudy Benjamin, Gérard Poumaroux… Christian Joseph-Lockel and Daniel Kissoun had the opportunity to run the festival musically. Other musicians such as Freddy Marshall also advised us during the creation of the festival.

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KARICULTURE.NET: The International Zouk Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, do you think that you have integrated this event into the cultural calendar of Guadeloupe? Do you really think that the FIZ is expected every year by the public?

Nicole Favières-Bourguignon: With the FIZ, we are doing cultural activism. The festival is now integrated into the cultural calendar of the island. We are now known, people hear about us. Our lack of money prevents us from making more important communication campaign but word-of-mouth, social networks help us a lot. The loyal audience compares the editions. Moreover, I see people defending zouk music with more passion today, this was not the case when we started the festival. Some say zouk music is dead but what are we doing to highlight it ? Zouk was born from a whole cultural vibrancy that lasted several years in Guadeloupe and the group Kassav’ was able to translate it… We should learn to enhance us, to appreciate who we are! We have to promote our young artists who take over, for example by broadcasting their songs instead of boycotting them. Other countries “take up” our music, some even give it another name, we must let it be known that zouk comes from Guadeloupe and Martinique.

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KARICULTURE.NET: This year’s program was very rich, there were many events around zouk scattered on the territory but do you not have the impression that the public maybe felt “lost”? Are you not afraid that all these small events make this festival “illegible”? For a festival, one expects rather to find a single large stage with great concerts where you could for example add singing competitions, dance competitions, deejay contests…

Nicole Favières-Bourguignon: We dream about having a big stage but we are slowed down by our small budget. Quality depends on means made available to us and volunteers.

The fact of being dispersed over several territories is the formula that allowed the FIZ to exist so far because, of course, such a festival requires very important resources.

The highlights of the festival are the springboards (singing competitions, dance competitions, deejay competitions, live bands, Zouk Beach Party, master classes), concerts come in addition to that.

We can point to several concerts realized during the FIZ:

  • in 2006, at the velodrome of the municipality of Baie-Mahault with Elisio from Cape Verde, Paola, Harry Soudourayen, the school of music La Clef des Arts etc. ;
  • in 2009, at the stadium of the city of Les Abymes with Patrick Saint-Éloi, Orlane, Bamboolaz, Dissonnance, Jean-Michel Rotin, Dominique Bernier, Expérience Gros Ka / Zouk (Paola, Teddy Pélissier, Éric Cosaque, Dominique Panol) etc.;
  • in 2010, in Laura Flessel Hall in the municipality of Petit-Bourg with Tanya Saint-Val, N’Jie, Dominique Panol, Patrick Benoît, Alan Cave etc. ;
  • in 2012, in Laura Flessel with Fanny J. and Tina Ly from French Guyana, Suzanna Lubrano from Portugal, T-Shaa, Antony Drew etc;
  • in 2015, in the municipality of Le Gosier with Alex Catherine for the 1st Zouk Love for Peace and in 2016 the 1st Gwada Zouk Jam

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KARICULTURE.NET: When you take stock of the 10 years of the FIZ, do you think that you received from the political and cultural authorities of Guadeloupe all the help you needed to promote this festival, particularly abroad – as do many Caribbean islands – so that this musical event attracts tourists because zouk is very popular in the world especially in the Caribbean, Africa, Brazil, Cape Verde etc?

Nicole Favières-Bourguignon: We never received substancial financial support to develop the FIZ. As an association, we receive only very paltry, very insufficient amounts for the organization of such a festival. The Caribbean islands that organize this kind of music festival have the financial support of their government which understood that such events attract tourists and develop their economy. In Guadeloupe, this is not the case however it is a question of promoting a music that we created. We have nothing against other music festivals but if we have to represent our country abroad, zouk will be the music that will characterize us and not jazz for example… But, because of our cultural activism, for 10 years we are still there and we manage to realize the FIZ with all our volunteers. We have not given up yet, even if there were attempts to take this festival in order to turn it into a matter of money… Moreover, the fact of decentralizing the festival in the communes also alliviates the financial difficulties.

The International Zouk Festival of Martinique is still at early stage.The 2nd edition will take place in 2017.

Currently, a cultural exchange project is setting up between the Caribbean and the United States. Concerts were already organized in New York in places like SOB’s (Sounds Of Brazil). The 1st International Zouk Festival in the United States is scheduled to take place in July 2018.

In ten years, the FIZ generated tourism spin-offs. For example, cruise companies approached us via the festival to have zouk groups for entertainment. The group “Tropical Box” works for several years with one of them.

The opening night of the 10th edition showed that the FIZ gradually becomes a major cultural event.