Edited by Azizi Powell
This pancocojams post provides information about and YouTube examples of Gwoka drumming, dancing, and singing/chanting from Guadeloupe which is located in the Caribbean.
The content of this post is presented for historical, folkloric, cultural and educational purposes.
All copyrights remain with their owners.
Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.
Gwoka: music, song, dance and cultural practice representative of Guadeloupean identity…
Inscribed in 2014 (9.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity
© 2013 by REPRIZ
"Gwoka is found among all ethnic and religious groups of Guadeloupean society. It combines responsorial singing in Guadeloupean Creole, rhythms played on the Ka drums and dancing. In its traditional form, Gwoka unites these three areas of expression and emphasizes individual qualities of improvisation. The participants and public form a circle in which dancers and soloists enter in turn and perform, facing the drums. The public claps and takes up the chorus from the soloist. Several thousand people regularly practise Gwoka at open-air Gwoka evenings, where the dance circle functions as a place to develop individual talents. Transmission of the practice and Ka drum-making skills is both informal through families and groups of friends, but also increasingly through formal workshops and schools of traditional dance and music. Gwoka is one of the most identifiable elements of Guadeloupean society and its contemporary expressions explore new avenues of music, choreography or singing. It is present at the high points of daily life, as well as at festive, cultural and secular events. It also accompanies movements of social and political protest. It strengthens identity and provides a feeling of communal development and individual pride, conveying values of conviviality, resistance and dignity."
"Gwo ka is a French creole term for big drum. Alongside Gwotanbou, simply Ka or Banboula (archaic) [correction: Bamboula], it refers to both a family of hand drums and the music played with them, which is a major part of Guadeloupean folk music. Moreover, the term is occasionally found in reference to the small, flat-bottomed tambourine (tanbou d'bas) played in kadri music, or even simply to drum (tanbou)in general.
The Gwo Ka musical practice emerged in the seventeenth century, during the transatlantic slave trade
Seven simple drum patterns form the basis of gwo ka music, on which the drummers build rhythmic improvisations. Different sizes of drums provide the foundation and its flourishes. The largest, the boula, plays the central rhythm while the smaller maké (or markeur) embellishes upon it, inter-playing with dancers, audience or singer. Gwo ka singing is usually guttural, nasal and rough, though it can also be bright and smooth, and is accompanied by uplifting and complex harmonies and melodies. There are also dances that tell folk stories that are accompanied by the gwo ka drums.
In modern, urban Guadeloupe, playing drums is not inextricably linked to dance anymore. But historically, the two practices were inseparable parts of the tradition of léwôz, events held fortnightly on Saturdays near the bigger plantations (payday), and each Saturday of the carnival season in areas of greater land parcelling. Gwoka music was–and still is–played throughout the year in various cultural manifestations such as léwòz, kout’tanbou, véyé and religious events, for example Advent’s wake. Today, rural Guadeloupans still gather for léwôz experiences, but a modernized and popularized form of gwo ka exists independently, known as gwo ka moderne.
The Gwo Ka musical practice emerged in the 17th century during the transatlantic slave trade, as a result of a creolization process: adaptation to surrounding context and assimilation of European cultural elements. African slaves of Guadeloupe used to gather to play drums, sing and dance. The use of any kind of drum was at that time forbidden by the Code Noir. As a consequence, slaves used a vocal technique called bouladjèl, which imitates drums. At that time, Gwoka practice was directly linked to agricultural work, especially sugar cane, coffee and banana cultivation.
Post 1946, along with anti-assimilation and anti-colonialism movements, Gwoka spread throughout the island, which marks the beginning of its rehabilitation process. As a consequence, in 1988, lawyer and nationalist activist Félix Cotellon created the Festival de Gwoka Sentann in the city of Sainte-Anne without the support of the municipality. Studies and symposiums were held on the occasion.
In 1981, local musician Gérard Lockel published the Traité de Gwoka modên, the first attempt to formalize this musical genre. . He claimed that Gwoka was atonal, breaching with western conventions and tastes. By affirming the modality of Gwoka, he situated this music style within the realm of African musical traditions. Paradoxically, under Lockel's leadership, Gwoka was transformed from a participatory music played outdoors to a presentational music played on stage with European and North American instruments.
Musical research show that the instrument can find its roots in the drums and songs of the West African countries (Guinea gulf, Congo...). From the diverse music and dance of their homelands, the slaves elaborated a communication tool, a new form of art, like the creole language: the Gwo Ka. This musical genre is characterised by an African typology: - repetitive form - improvisation - physical movements linked to music - a response between a soloist and choir - a syncopation weak times
Traditional gwo ka is ideally played with at least 2 hand drums (ka in créole): 1 boula and 1 make. Historically, ka were made of:
a recycled cured meat keg for the body (bari a vyann or bouko in créole);
a goat skin (po a kabrit in créole) — male for the boula vs. female for the makè;
tensioning metal hoops (sèk, i.e. circle in créole);
wooden tensioning pegs (klé in créole);
rope (zoban in créole).
Often, the Ka section is further accompanied by:
ti-bwa: 15 to 20 cm wooden sticks drummed on the side of a "Ka" or a section of bamboo culm of about 15cm in diameter;
chacha: emptied & dried calabash — or any other container — filled with a granular material (e.g. grains, salt, sand...).
The influences (lifestyle and musical genre) of the "master" fusioned with this base to create the seven rhythms or dances:
The léwôz is the war rhythm, used to give rhythm the attacks against the plantations, but was also an incantation dance;
The kaladja symbolises the struggle in love;
The toumblak, like the kaladja, deals with the love theme, belly dance, fertility dance;
The padjabèl is the cane cutting dance;
The graj accompanies the agricultural work;
The woulé is the "creole waltz", to charm and mimic the whites;
The mendé would have been the last rhythm to arrive in the islands, with the "Congos" under contract after the abolition, and symbolises the collective celebration of carnival.
“Gwo-ka is a dance of improvisation by excellence, a dance of the instinct, of the moment. (…) Gwo-ka, dance of resistance, of resilience and adaptation: Dance of Life”
Gwo ka moderne
A more modernized version of gwo ka is gwo ka moderne, which adds new instruments ranging from conga or djembe drums and chimes to electric bass guitar. At root, however, these styles all use the same fundamental seven rhythms as folk gwo ka. Zouk legends Kassav' played an important role in the modernization of gwo ka, giving urban credibility to a style that was seen as backward and unsophisticated; they initially played in a gwo ka format, using songs from the gwo ka Carnival tradition of mas a St. Jean and even placing a homage to traditionalist drumming legend Velo on their earlier albums.
Gwo ka moderne artists include Pakala Percussion, Van Lévé and Poukoutan'n, alongside more pop-influenced musicians like Marcel Magnat and Ti Celeste, while Gerard Hubert and others have fused gwo ka with zouk. The most famous modern gwo ka performer, however, is William Flessel, whose Message Ka in 1994 became an international hit.
In 2013, the Heritage Committee of the Ministry of Culture and Communication has selected the intent to apply of gwoka for registration to the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in order to enhance the gwoka and organize a network of actors.
In 2014, the Heritage Committee recognized gwoka in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”…
"Stylistic origins: West Africa
Cultural origins: 17th century, Guadeloupe
Traditional: the boula, playing the central rhythm and the smaller, markeur (or maké), as well as a chak chak (a maracas).
Contemporary: boula and maké drums, maracas, conga or djembe drums, chimes and electric bass guitar.
Derivative forms: Gwo ka moderne, biguine, chouval bwa, zouk, zouk love"...
PANCOCOJAMS EDITOR'S NOTE & "AFRICAN ROCK" BOOK EXCERPT
Since I happened upon the Afro-Zouk song "Adia" by Oliver N'Goma earlier this week while surfing YouTube, I've become fascinated with that music genre (or sub-genre). Here's a link to Part I of a two part pancocojams series on that song: http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2018/07/gabonese-singer-oliver-ngoma-adia-part.html. The link for Part II is given in that post.
When I found very little about Afro-Zouk music online, it occurred to me that some time ago I purchased a 1990 book entitled African Rock: The Pop Music Of A Continent by Chris Stapleton and Chris May (Dutton, New York). Thankfully, that book included some information about the origins of Zouk and about the early days of Zouk in Africa.
Excerpts from that book are quoted in these two pancocojams posts:
http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2018/07/excerpts-about-kassav-band-and-excerpts.html "Excerpts About The Roots Of Zouk Music From The 1990 Book "African Rock: The Pop Music Of A Continent", Part I
http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2018/07/excerpts-about-kassav-band-and-excerpts.html "Excerpts About Kassav Band And Excerpts About Zouk In Africa From The 1990 book "African Rock: The Pop Music Of A Continent"
Here's one passage from that book that includes information about Gwoka [This passage is included in Part I of that above mentioned pancocojams series]
THE ROOTS OF ZOUK
It is clear, then, that zouk is a Caribbean melange filtered through Parisian culture. But its roots lie deep beneath this hi-tech mirage: they are from the same source, west African polyrhythms and harmony, as are salsa, calypso, reggae and blues. But in zouk's case the African retentions are twice removed- first to the Caribbean, then to Paris. And zouk's basket of Caribbean influences show a fascinating marriage of colonially imported styles, like European beguines,
quadrille and mazurkas and African drum-ensemble practices.
Of the African styles which survived the diaspora and lived on in Guadeloupe and Martinique to resurface in zouk, one, the Saint Jean rhythm, a fast sambaish carnival beat from Guadeloupe, has its origins in Bantu religious ceremonies. Guadeloupe, due to the historic neglect of the French, has been able to hold on to African percussive skills and religion-focused music more easily than Martinique, which has been historically, more favored by the French, as the Parisian bourgeoisie's Caribbean playground. The Saint Jean rhythm was popularized by Kassav when using the pseudonym Soukou Ko Ou on their monster 1984 disc "Vacances". The exhilarating, circular dance beat is ingeniously modernized by P. E. Decimus and the band; it even includes Shadows-sounding guitar.
More importtant African retnetions in zouk are, however, the tambour drum triumvirate-the two gwo ka and the one ti bwa drums. Here is the African strand in Antillean Creole life standing proudest and loudest: ka drums are the most African of all things Antillean.
Tambour music, called waka waka, has been recorded only since the mid-seventies, when the casdence of the Vikings triggered the unearthing of indigenous styles previously heard only at carnivals and festival time, when across Guadeloupe's hills, from village to village, the messages and anecdotes-a direct line from early days- of the ka drums would ring out. Since the mid-seventies, however, record stores stock tambour music and the records are played on some of the islands' fifteen radio stations.
Gwo ka was brought in by P.E. Decimus to the Vikings and from then on was the rhythmic centre of cadence and its cosmopolitan child zouk. Top zouk singers Sartana and Pier Rosier never perform or record without the requisite ka section and the hottest new wave zouk of '87, for example Sevais Liso and Ramon Pyrme's Zouk Time, dsiplay a new, more minimal use of ka within an uncluttered synthesizer-sculpted framework. But it was P.E. Decimus who first took the ka unit to Paris and Kassav who first set such a pure African retention alongside elements which could not be further removed from African tribal origins."
Example #1: GWO KA made in Pointe a Pitre (Guadeloupe)
Natychrys, Published on Oct 26, 2007
En plein centre ville, plusieurs groupes de Gwo Ka font le spectacle tout les samedi et ce pour le plaisir de tous...
In the city center, several groups of Gwo Ka make the show every Saturday and this for the pleasure of all ...
Selected comments from this discussion thread (numbers assigned for referencing purposes only)
1. Cassius Gwada, 2012
"Gwada l'authentik, fiere d'etre Afro-caraïbéens, le son du Gwoka me ressource!!!! Unissons nous peuple de la caraïbe et revendiquons nos racines africaines!!!!"
"Gwada l'authentik, proud to be Afro-Caribbean, the sound of Gwoka me resource !!!! Unite us people of the caribbean and claim our African roots !!!!"
2. SuperSainteNitouche, 2012
"le gwo ka et le mennde me rappellent mon enfance en Cote d'Ivoire quand on allait regarder les danseuses de Djembe. le tam tam ou djembe ou gwo ka joue un role tres important dans notre culture et voir cette video me donne des frissons. Nous ne sommes pas aussi differents que nous croyons. Nous avons la meme mere qui est Mama Africa et nous gagnerons a etre unis.!!!"
"the gwo ka and the mennde remind me of my childhood in Ivory Coast when we went to watch dancers Djembe. the tam tam or djembe or gwo ka plays a very important role in our culture and seeing this video gives me chills. We are not as different as we believe. We have the same mother who is Mama Africa and we will win to be united !!!"
Example #2: Gwo ka - 1 petit bout de chou danse regardez!
lagoyave, Published on Jul 22, 2011
Genre: gwo ka music - Guadeloupe
LISEZ!!! Bay lavwa pou toupiti, la relève. Woulo bravo. Fòs
Sincèrement désolée, détérioration du son après téléchargement sinon je n'ai pas ce son saturée dans mon fichier original. Vous avez vu cette petite? Wouah et encore je n'ai pas pu tout filmer, je la regardais! :)
WANT TO KNOW MORE? VOUS VOULEZ LES CONTACTER? ALLEZ SUR FACEBOOK
FB Association: Force Antillaise
Chant: Alex Lipau
Boula droite: Jonas Fila
Chacha: Madison, José Darin
Petite Maé,lol, la maman et papa Lipau: Africa-Antilles = ONE LOVE et merci pour la discussion et autant de sagesse.
Bon comment vous le dire: Eh les Gwada, Madinina, 973, 974 en force ok?! lol Soutenons la créativité, le talent, la persévérance de nos compatriotes en banlieue, peu importe l'endroit où vous ferez votre captation. Valorisez justement notre patrimoine, notre culture. Elle a à peine 3 ans vous vous rendez compte? Filmez, filmez, filmez, demandez l'autorisation, valorisez notre culture où que vous soyez, je ne peux pas vous le dire autrement. Si vous parlez une langue étrangère ou plusieurs, traduisez, expliquez? Moi en fait, je clarifie beaucoup en MP en Anglais ou en Espagnol donc je ne sous-titre pas mes vids (pas le temps non plus!).
Donc Maélys et son papa le sympathique Alex Lipau au chant: un gars simple, honnête et très réaliste sur le gwo ka d'hier et d'aujourd'hui en région Parisienne. Le gars est vrai, à l'image des gens authentiques que j'aime.
FB Association: Force Antillaise
Chant: Alex Lipau
Boula droite: Jonas Fila
Chacha: Madison, José Darin
Google translate from French to English:
Ead !!! Bay lavwa for toupiti, the relief. Woulo bravo. FOS
Sincerely sorry, sound deterioration after download otherwise I do not have this sound saturated in my original file. Did you see this girl? Wow and again I could not film everything, I was watching! :)
WANT TO KNOW MORE? DO YOU WANT TO CONTACT THEM? GO ON FACEBOOK
FB Association: Caribbean Force
Song: Alex Lipau
Right Boula: Jonas Fila
Chacha: Madison, José Darin
Little Mae, lol, mom and dad Lipau: Africa-Antilles = ONE LOVE and thanks for the discussion and as much wisdom.
Good how you say it: Hey Gwada, Madinina, 973, 974 in force ok ?! lol Let us support the creativity, the talent, the perseverance of our compatriots in the suburbs, no matter where you make your capture. Value our heritage, our culture. She is barely 3 years old do you realize? Film, film, film, ask permission, value our culture wherever you are, I can not tell you otherwise. If you speak one or more foreign languages, translate, explain? Me in fact, I clarify a lot in MP in English or Spanish so I do not subtitle my vids (no time either!).
So Maélys and his dad the friendly Alex Lipau singing: a simple guy, honest and very realistic on the gwo ka yesterday and today in the Paris region. The guy is true, like the authentic people I love.
Example #3: Fête de la musique 2012 Gwoka Paris
Lasko Châline, Published on Jun 22, 2012
Kout Tanbou à Paris St Michel
If I'm not mistaken, the West African djembe [pronounced the same as the English words gym-bay] is the middle drum in this video. Djembes aren't traditionally part of Gwoka.
Example #4: Les 7 rythmes du Gwoka. Original.
Alain Duchange MAP - MAP Alizés
Published on Apr 19, 2014
Par Yves Thole maître d'art et maître Ka. Images Alain Duchange, Akajaklin.
Example #5: REPORTAGE GWOkA GUADELOUPE MARS 2016( Rachel LE NAN/ kipes Radio TV)
KIPES RADIO TV, Published on Apr 9, 2016
"L'objectif de Rachel" , met à l'honneur le Gwoka.....Immersion totale en Guadeloupe..
Merci à tous d'avoir accepté mon objectif !
Google translate from French to English:
"The goal of Rachel", puts the spotlight on the Gwoka ..... Total immersion in Guadeloupe ..
Thank you all for accepting my goal!
Selected comments from this discussion thread (numbers assigned for referencing purposes only with Google translations from French to English given below the comment)
1. wpj percussion, 2017
"le gwoka j'adore jouer ce style de tambour ces rythms de racine africaine mais joués aux antilles"
"the gwoka I love playing this style of drum these rhythms of African roots but played in the Caribbean"
2. Bwalewoz A, 2017
"De longues secondes de gros plan sur le KA ,sur les mains du tanbouyê ( le markê dénommé DIXIT Marc)....un pur régal ...merci Monsieur le virtuose, merci à vous les danseuses, vous gérez !
A 8:35 à peu près , un de nos plus grands artistes gwoka passe et repasse : Mr Ladrezeau pour ne pas le nommer, " locksé" de partout ...mdr"
"Long seconds of close-up on the KA, on the hands of the tanbouyê (the markê called DIXIT Marc) .... a pure treat ... thank you Mr. virtuoso, thank you to the dancers, you manage!
At about 8:35, one of our greatest artists gwoka passes and repasses: Mr Ladrezeau not to name it, "locksé" everywhere ... lol"
3. Ibrahima S, 2017
"Cette danse est d'une très grande beauté. Elle mérite d'être mieux connue partout dans le monde : Europe, Afrique, Amérique du sud. Bravo Guadeloupe. De la part d'un africain qui adore votre culture"
Ibrahima S, 2017
"This dance is very beautiful. It deserves to be better known all over the world: Europe, Africa, South America. Bravo Guadeloupe. From an African who loves your culture"
4. Francis Hatilip, 2018
"Ibrahima S le gwo n'est seulement une danse,c'est aussi le tambour traditionnelle de la Guadeloupe comportait 7 rythmes:le toumblak,le Mendè,le graj,le kaladja,le woule,le padjanbel et,les lewoz de basse terre et,de grande terre,reconnu à l'UNESCO"
"Ibrahima S the gwo is [not]* only a dance, it is also the traditional drum of Guadeloupe included 7 rhythms: toumblak, Mendè, graj, kaladja, woule, padjanbel and, lowland lewoz and , of great land, recognized at UNESCO"
I added the word "not" as I think its addition fits the meaning of the sentence.
5. Bwalewoz A, 2017
"La fierté du peuple Guadeloupéen est de faire briller et d'élever au plus haut le GWOKA, ces rythmes,cette danse que nous tenons de nos ancêtres et qui n'ont pas arrêter d'évoluer grâce au travail de nos artistes musiciens, chorégraphes , danseurs, fabricants de KAS, autant dans la création que dans la transmission des savoirs . BIG up!"
"The pride of the Guadeloupean people is to shine and elevate the GWOKA, these rhythms, this dance that we hold of our ancestors and which did not stop evolving thanks to the work of our artists musicians, choreographers, dancers, manufacturers of KAS, as much in the creation as in the transmission of knowledge. BIG up!"
6. PrekeseGlobalTravel Tukwankohwe, 2017
"That's a superb dancer right there. Good job."
7. Ludivina Nieto, 2017
"Elle est magnifique !!! Et les musiciens top !"
"She is magnificent !!! And the top musicians!"
8. Sarah Alves, 2018
"Se assemelha com carimbó aqui do Pará/Brasil"
"It resembles carimbó here from Pará / Brazil"
9. Bwalewoz A, 2018
"Les 7 rythmes du Gwoka et leur signification
Léwòz : rythme de guerre, souvent dansé par des hommes, le lien entre danseur et marqueur est très fort. Imitation de dispute ou coup porté, on retrouve aussi souvent le déséquilibre appelé le « bigidi » qui renvoie à l’ivresse des danseurs.
- Toumblak : rythme enjoué et festif, danse de l’amour qui génère des postures suggestives en danse. Joué rapidement il se nomme toumblak « chiré ».
- Kaladja : rythme joué souvent lent (peut être joué rapidement également) qui évoque la souffrance, la tristesse.
- Graj : rythme lent rappelant le travail pénible aux champs et la souffrance qui en découlait, la danse imitant souvent les gestes de récolte.
- Woulé : sorte de valse, c’est aussi un rythme de travail comme le graj.
- Menndè : rythme enjoué, rapide, utilisé aussi pour le carnaval. Rythme de fête et de désinvolture.
- Padjanbèl : rythme de travail qui relie la terre et le ciel, symbole à la fois de la dureté du travail au sol et de l’élégance flottante dans l’air. (source: "Moun à Gwoka/ projet de Marie-charlotte Loreille)
"The 7 Gwoka rhythms and their meanings
Léwòz: rhythm of war, often danced by men, the link between dancer and marker is very strong. Imitation of argument or blow worn, we often find the imbalance called the "bigidi" which refers to the drunkenness of the dancers.
- Toumblak: playful and festive rhythm, dance of love that generates suggestive postures in dance. Played quickly it is called toumblak "chiré".
- Kaladja: rhythm played often slow (can be played quickly also) that evokes suffering, sadness.
- Graj: slow rhythm recalling the painful work in the fields and the suffering that ensued, the dance often imitating the gestures of harvest.
- Woulé: a kind of waltz, it's also a rhythm of work like the graj.
- Menndè: playful rhythm, fast, used also for the carnival. Rhythm of celebration and casually.
- Padjanbèl: a working rhythm that links the earth and the sky, symbol of both the hardness of the work on the ground and the floating elegance in the air. (source: "Moun to Gwoka / Marie-charlotte Loreille's project)"
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