Thursday, July 12, 2018

Excerpts About The Roots Of Zouk Music From The 1990 Book "African Rock: The Pop Music Of A Continent", Part I

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part I of a pancocojams series that provides excerpts about Afro-Zouk music from the 1990 book African Rock: The Pop Music Of A Continent by Chris Stapleton and Chris May (Dutton, New York).

Part I provides excerpts from Africa Rock which provide information about the roots of Zouk music.

Click for Part II of this series. Part II provides excerpts from Africa Rock which provides additional information about Kassav (band) as well as information about Zouk in Africa (up to 1987).

Note that these excerpts are given without the accent marks in the spelling of certain words.

The content of this post is presented for historical, cultural, and educational purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Chris Stapleton and Chris May and all those who are quoted in this post. Thanks also to the early developers of Zouk and Afro-Zouk music.

[page 240]
..."In Paris of recent years a musical revolution has been under way. The pop music of Gudelupe and Martinique-casence-has been transformed through the state-of-the art recording technology into a new and highly eclectic style:zouk. Le zouk has in turn heavily influenced the new way of Cameroonian and Cote d'Ivoire makossa artistsl even Zairean zoukous has not escaped. It has also made inroads closer ti its home in the salsa of Puerto Rico and the compas in Venezuela.

Though the cosmopolitan, Paris-based Kassav stand heas and shoulders in importance above anyone else in bringing about this revolution, the roots of zouk lie deep in t he hills of Guadeloupe and Martinique and in the festivals and carnivals on other islands. Zouk, arguably, would still have come about even if its progenitors, Pierre Eduard, George Decimus and Jacob Desvarieux hadn't met in Paris, formed Kassav and set the 'zoukship' on course.

Nine years after Kassav's inception in 1978, they are zouk's flagship, exporting the style's multi=faceted rhythms across the globe. But there is a new-wave, post- Kassav zouk-variants on the original theme-even more in demand in the style's three homes: the discos of Paris and the zouks in Basse-Terre and Fort-de France, the capitals of Guadeloupe and Martinique.


[page 241]


What... has made zouk the way it is?"

John Armstrong points to the importance of Haitian band Tabou Combo, most notably their horn arranger Adolpho. During the sixties and early seventies Antilleans listened to very little of their own music; instead they danced to the full brassy swing of Haitian bands like Tabou.

It was the particular way the horns would break up passages, take the lead and pick up melodies, Armstrong explains, which was utilized in the cadence of, say, the Vikings or George Plonquitte. This style of horn arrangement is an integral part of zouk. though in the hands of Kassav
it has been stylized and abbreviated. This Haitian pop was coined 'cadence-lyso', though it came before Antillean cadence and hadn't

[page 242]

depended significantly on calypso for inspiration and patterning. In fact, the calpsonian from Montserrat, Arrow. who was credited himself with the making of the modern calypso-soca-sound, has acknowledged the roles Haitian cadence-lypso and Martiniquan biguine played in the building of soca.

Also, Armstrong points out, the highly developed, idiosyncratic guitar styles of Haitian band, Coupe Cloue have been translated into cadence and zouk. However, soukous guitaring, largely because of a visdit to the Antilles by the Zairean band Orchestre Rico Jazz in the early seventies and the subsequent mixing of ex-colonized Franco-Africans in Paris, is ever-present, bubbling beneath the surface on much cadence and souk. Additionally, the lead singer of the Haitian guitar band, Coupe Cloue himself; has strongly influenced Sartana by way of his propensity to rap. Similar to the 'slack' calysonian, Coupe and Sartana's lyrics are often lewd or melodramatically romantic.

Jumbo Vanrenen is quick to emphasize the Latin stresses in zouk. The chant style of vocal delivery and characteristic tempo breaks have their parallels in Dominican Republic merengue, Puerto Rican salsa and the compas on the mainland. But Vanrenen hears, before all these specific elements, a Latin American/Caribbean swing in zouk, a fusing together of a variety of rhythms from that broad belt of Amerindian, west African and European-descended peoples. Zouk's core, its hidden blue note, he feels sure is Yoruban drum and vocal accenting. This age-old heartbeat is made anew in zouk's chant vocalls, call-and- response refrains and gwo ka drum patterns.

Another perspective is offered by Dave Hucker. Hecites the 1987 soca hits, like stalin's 'Burn Dem' as the most significant inroad zouk has yet made into the cross-Caribbean companion genre, soca. The crisp, staccato Linn drum programming, the rhythmic anchor of stat-of-the -art zouk, has a more palpable presence in this year's crop of soca than ever before. it provides a radical departure from soca's customary lush, percussive devices.


Rene Williams, an Ivorian and an authority on eighties Franco-

[page 243]

African/Antillean music, points to zouk's more specific antecedents. 'The Dominican band Exile One strongly influenced the Antillean music, the early cadence, in the mid-seventies, through the strongest single influence was the Haitian cadence-lypso, which dominated the airwaves and dancefloors [sic] at the time.

Exile One fused all sorts of style inventively, if rather clumsily. They picked up on funk, mixed it with island rhythms in a way that set a precedent Kassav later exploited. The conditions were there for a new indigenous music to develop. The process Exile One started was continued by the Guadeloupian band the Vikings.

The Vikings included Exile One singer Gordon Henderson and the multi-instrumentalist and Kassav founder Pieere Eduard Decimus. A succession of ground-breaking records in the mid-seventies put cadence on course. And, with their original balance of funk, Haitian and reinterpreted colonial styles such as biguine (adapted from the slow French beguine) and quadrilles, plus a dash of Neo-African, Rico Jazz input, the zouk potpourri was in its early mixing stages.

Rene Williams is also quick to emphasize the importance of Paris in the growth of zouk. It was where Kassav, after a meeting between the ex-Viking P.E. Decimus and Guadeloupian rock gitarist Jacob Desvarieux, was born.


More and more bridges between styles are being built in the music mecca Paris....San Fan Thomas's "African Typic Collection" was a massive hit in the Antilles in 1985, as it was, of course, all over Africa. Clearly since then zouk musicians have experimented more with makossa ideas-most noticeably the forceful bass lines and rhythm guitar picking.


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,

[page 244]

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.

The first Kassav LPLove and La Dance (a play on words which also goes some way towards indicating the origins of the term cadence) was a veiled

[page 245)

tribute to the Antillean people's African history. This LP made Decimus and Desvarieux, who had met in Paris, musicians and arrangers for African musicians to hunt out once there. It also set into motion an Antillean pride: a recognition of their African roots, which had almost been squashed by European domination. To emphasize the significance of ka, Kassav even dedicated the title tract to the uncontested master, and one-time sole practitioner of gwo ka, the late Velo.

There is much more in zouk, however, besides African drumming patterns. Inter-island communication enabled the merengue and compas beats, as well as the aforementioned Haitian rhythms, to b soaked up by Antilleans. Also the way the Martiniquans adapted the slow, decorative and rather stodgy beguine into a vibrant mid-tempo dance, was highly significant first for cadence, then for zouk. For it was the jumpy, tight tensions of beguine's bass lines which gave the pop styles their peculiar rhythmic anchor. Strait-laced European dances, such as the quadrille and the bolero, can be detected in zouk (Kassav's song 'Bolero', like the aforementioned "Vacances', uses traditional moods and structures as a springboard for a fresh, radical, rereading)."...

This concludes Part I of this two part series.

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