Friday, September 7, 2007

WE Spotlight - Kassav’ - Zouk is Here

By Cheryl Nneka U. Hazell

When we think of the French Antilles islands, images of graceful streets and gardens, a beautiful language, colourful traditional garb, and a spicy uniqueness to its music and dance come to mind. The musical flavours of Martinique and Guadeloupe (or as the indigenous peoples called them respectively Matinino and Karukera) have influenced many soca and calypso artists to the south as well as in turn been influenced by the music of its neighbouring islands of Jamaica and Cuba. But there is a legend that has been born of Martinican melodies and Guadeloupean grooves. This legend is Kassav’, the Kreyol name for cassava, which was first formed in 1979 when Paris-based George and Pierre Edouard Decimus, Freddy Marshall, and Jacob Desvarieux elevated the Antillean music style that was coming out from Guadeloupe and Martinique to a more modern and polished level. Although the band has roamed far from home and toured almost the entire globe, Martinique continues to be the group’s eternal source of inspiration. The rhythmic style of zouk, which means “party”, has its roots in Haitian kompa and Dominican cadence, beguine and quadrille while its evolution has been heavily influenced by heavy-metal guitar, funk, soul, Congolese soukous and a variety of Latin rhythms. This genre has gained international popularity since it first was heard in the early 1980s and is considered one of the most important contemporary pop innovations.

Kassav’ recently played in Toronto for the first time ever in the band’s 25 plus years career to a packed concert hall on Emancipation Day, August 1, where the crowd went wild in a carnival-like atmosphere. Core members Jocelyne Beroard and Jean-Philippe Marthely were supported by vocally strong back up singers and a full band with lead musicians - Jacob Desvarieux on guitar, Jean-Claude Naimro on keyboards, and Georges Decimus on bass. The audience obeyed the call-and-response chant of “Nou la! Toujou la!” led by Marthely. And it didn’t even matter that an English-speaker couldn’t understand Kreyol. According to lead singer Jocelyne Beroard, “A lot of people don't understand everything Michael Jackson sings but that doesn't stop him from being a hit in non-English-speaking countries. Our music is strong enough in itself to reach audiences of different nationalities. You just have to know how to listen.”
The strength of the performance, the perfect pitch, tone, and harmonies of the singers and musicians added to the energy coming not only from the performers themselves but from swaying, singing, hands-raised, sweat-drenched bodies moving in one accord from the front of the stage, in the aisles, way up in the balcony, all the way to the back of the concert hall.

This type of love affair with their audiences and a love for their culture has helped Kassav’ to navigate through the production of 30 successful albums that inevitably blessed them with a dizzying array of awards. Songs like Mi Che Mwen, Rété; Siwo; Difé Soupapé, and the unforgettable Zouk la sé sèl médickaman nou ni (Zouk is our only medicine), which brought the group international fame far beyond the Caribbean and is on many a soca DJs play list today, have all been runaway successes placing Kassav’s albums in the big league. There may have been past mutterings within the music world of a boredom threshold but those were stymied as the band’s considerable recording output gave the public no time to forget the group between two hits. Kassav’ continues to dominate their genre’s ratings as they leave their musical footprints on a world that – from America, to Japan and Russia - has grown to recognize the culture of the Antilles and that of the Caribbean in general. Sak pasé? Joie de vivre!


marianne0424 said...

this was a good article ... i was wondering if you have any articles on how zouk influence young people of martinique ... i am doing a project in school ... also if you have any articles on what young people of martinique think of zouk

this too will pass said...

a great band