Tuesday, July 19, 2011


Kassav', the Zouk band par excellence credited with inventing zouk music was formed in 1979 by Pierre-Edouard Décimus (a long-time professional musician who had worked with Freddy Marshall) and Paris studio musician Jacob F. Desvarieux. Together and under the influence of well-known Guadeloupean combo Experience 7, they decided to make Guadeloupean carnival music and record it in a more fully-orchestrated yet modern and polished style. In the 1980’s they took Caribbean music to another level by recording in the new digital format. Kassav' was the leading band to emerge from the formative years of zouk; most authors credit Décimus, his brother Georges, the band's bassist and Desvarieux as its inventors. The music evolved from kadans, and the cadence-lypso of Dominica, as popularized by Grammacks and Exile One. They gave the style a pan-Caribbean sound by taking elements from Haitian compas, Jamaican reggae, Nuevo Rican salsa, and Republic of Cameroon's rhythm Makossa, and the result became world-famous. Their first album, Love And Ka Dance (1980), established the new sound of zouk, a Parisian concoction unlike anything else, island-based or otherwise to come onto the global scene. The band gained popularity in their much-heralded live performances in Paris's Club Zenith and toured widely. For a band ostensibly operating in a "narrowly focused" Caribbean dance-based 'recently arrived' new genre, their success and influence on other artists was remarkable, although they were most influenced by a veritable 'cornucopia' of other styles as noted above.

Kassav' continued to gain popularity both as a group and by several members' solo recordings, eventually peaking in 1985 with Yélélé, which featured the international hit "Zouk la sé sèl médikaman nou ni" (meaning "Zouk is the only medicine we have" in French Antillean Creole). With this hit song, zouk rapidly became a widespread dance craze in Latin America and the Caribbean, and was popular in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Zouk performers became known for wildly theatrical concerts featuring special effects, stage spectacles and colorful costumes. One important contribution of Kassav' in concert was the appearance of featured dancers on stage with the band; these dancers were in many ways as much a part of the band as any musician. Kassav' has been noted by its acolytes and aficionados as a dance band par excellence. Among Kassav' strengths that helped lead to its success were and are its members' superior musicianship, songwriting and production skills, and worldwide audiences eager for lively dance music more sophisticated than the sort of disco/techno-based styles that otherwise dominated dance music charts in that era. The especially-gravely singing voice of Desvarieux, Décimus's driving bass, Naimro's and Joseph's inventive keyboards and superior drum-machine-based and Vamur's solid jazz-inflected live percussion, along with dance party-inspiring simple French-creole lyrics are among unique Kassav' 'trademarks'. During his tenure with Kassav', St. Eloi's soaring vocals were another unique ingredient, and the romantic vocals of Marthely and Naimro's as well as Béroard's very strong vocals, a plethora of fun songs, and significant guest appearances including Stevie Wonder and others are important parts of the Kassav' mix. Kassav performs at Terminal 5 in New York City on July 30 along with co-headliners T-Vice.

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