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Monday, Sep 28 2009 | 13:07 Buy this now at GoodToGo (B2B)

6219Soundway presents “Tumbélé! – Biguine, Afro And Latin Sounds From The French Caribbean, 1963–74” – a look at the unique and overlooked sounds from the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Lilting biguines, heavy gwo ka drums and tumbélé rhythms collide with the sounds of the carnival. Haitian, Congolese and Puerto Rican influences are added to the pot in a percussive celebration of Afro-Caribbean spirit.

Martinique and Guadeloupe are overseas départements of France, situated in the Eastern Caribbean island chain of the Lesser Antilles. Successive waves of immigrants and a strong French colonial presence have combined to produce a strong musical culture that takes in African and latin rhythms alongside jazz, calypso and the local biguine style.

Often overlooked in the English speaking Caribbean, the scattering drums and soaring clarinets of the biguine ruled the airwaves and dancefloors of Martinique and Guadeloupe in the 1960s.

This album showcases the vibrancy of the scene on the islands in the ’60s and ’70s – a scene that would go on to develop the all-conquering sound of zouk in the ’80s. Uptown bands like Ensemble La Perfecta and Les Loups Noirs combine heavy rhythms and psychedelic effects in an inimitable style – check out the crazed Jet Biguine for a better idea! The deep and introspective sounds of Monsieur Dolor and Guadeloupean hero Robert Loison show the deep African roots of the music – songs born out of the plantations, with an insistent rhythm and mournful vocals that are unique to these islands.

Overlooked outside of Paris, Montreal and the French Caribbean for many years, this collection redresses the balance by presenting the vital sounds of Martinique and Guadeloupe – missing pieces of the musical jigsaw puzzle of the Caribbean.

Chauffé Biguine-là!

The roots of the Antillean biguine sound are probably in the meeting of early “hot” jazz from New Orleans and Paris, combined with the high society contredanse of the salon and the rhythms that came over on the slave ships from Africa. Both Martinique and Guadeloupe lay claim to being the home of the biguine, and both have a slightly different take on it. Classic Martinican biguine often features a clarinet, while Guadeloupean biguine tends to have a more rustic flavour, with varying styles depending on the size of the orchestra or band. The biguine has much the same role as calypso in Trinidad, taking in everything from social commentary to bawdy innuendos and self-aggrandisement. Biguines are composed for competitions, carnivals and to comment on current affairs.

Apart from the islands themselves, Haiti had the strongest outside influence on the music of Martinique and Guadeloupe in the early ’60s. Touring orchestras like those of Nemours Jean-Baptiste, Weber Sicot and Raymond Cicault often stayed for extended periods of time in Fort-de-France and Pointe-à-Pitre, and most of the locally-produced records of the late ’50s and early ’60s were recordings of the touring orchestras. The compas direct and cadence rampa ruled the grands bals of Martinique and Guadeloupe, mixed up with Cuban-style guaguancos and cha chas. Famous clubs like La Bananeraie in Fort-de-France would vibrate to the sounds of acts like the Orchestra Tropicana, a mixed Haitian/Antillean band that dominated the local scene at the time and was the starting point for many future stars.

Surprise Parties and Punchs en Musique

Alongside “les bals”, most music was heard at daytime events called punchs en musique: bands would play from mid-day till dusk at open-air events and at smaller informal gatherings called surprise parties, often in people’s houses, mixing the in-vogue Haitian styles with biguine and other traditional songs.

As the sound developed in the mid ’60s and more local bands began to record, the fashion for the large orchestras was replaced by smaller, cheaper and more mobile groups, modelled on the Haitian “mini-jazz” style of groups like Les Shleu Shleu. But the arrival of the Congolese Ry-co Jazz band in 1967 had a huge impact on the local scene.

Antillean musicians had already been to Africa: stars like Gerard La Viny and Robert Mavounzy had toured Senegal and visited Côte d’Ivoire in the early ’60s; and as fellow French colonies there was still a fair amount of traffic between the Antilles and Francophone Africa. Ry-co Jazz, who were already stars in Africa and Paris, arrived in Martinique in 1967 and stayed for more than four years, moving between the Islands and developing the tumbélé sound, which was essentially a mixture of Congolese rumba, Haitian compas, Cuban percussion and Antillean biguine.

An Bel Rythme Africano

The relationship between tumbélé and traditional Antillean music is a bit like that between boogaloo and Latin: outside influences are juxtaposed with local heritage. The fashion for tumbélé was comparatively short-lived and this album is by no means exclusively made up of the style, but it is an important expression of intention and an ideal prism through which to see the development of a hybrid musical style that encompasses many aspects of Antillean heritage: from Africa, Europe and the Caribbean.

While the biguine is the more urban sound of the French Caribbean, the rural musical styles of Martinique (bélé) and Guadeloupe (gwo-ka) are the strongest links between African music and the Antillean tradition. Based around large goat-skin drums (tambours and the ka drum, respectively) and often a ti-bois (a bamboo stick played to counterpoint the drums), the bélé and gwo-ka have a vital place in Antillean créole culture and are extremely important in the music of the islands.

Call and response singing, and complex, trance-like rhythms accompany set dances. The music is born out of the plantations and the legacy of slavery, and was not accepted into the urban centres until the early ’60s. In Martinique, the singer and pianist Francisco caused a scandal when he included the bélé drums in his carnival parade in the mid ’50s: he had mixed the urban biguine with the rural “black” drumming styles that were associated with slavery. After the initial uproar, the drums were accepted by more of the urban population as symbols of their cultural identity, and the rhythms were increasingly incorporated into bands’ repertoires throughout the ’60s.

In Guadeloupe, gwo-ka players like Marcel Lollia (a.k.a. Vélo) and Robert Loison are national heroes, and represent pride in the patrimoine, the culture that still existed on the plantations, and which was relatively cut off from the urban centres and less affected by outside influence.

Maisons des Disques

The music scene on the two islands was centred on the Martinican capital Fort-de-France and the Guadeloupean urban centre of Pointe-à-Pitre, closely followed by the smaller and more cut-off capital of Guadeloupe, Basse Terre (confusingly, on an island also called Basse Terre). Although the music scene was large, until the late ’60s there were not that many locally-produced records.

Some of the first labels to release local music were Maison de Merengues in Martinique and Disques Emeraude in Guadeloupe (run by Marcel Mavounzy, brother of the famous Robert Mavounzy), who both released local music from the late ’50s onwards. As the technology improved, producers like Syrian-born Henri Debs and his Disques Debs label and Raymond Celini’s Aux Ondes label were the most active producers on Guadeloupe, while Madame Roy-Larenty’s Hit Parade label had the biggest studio and was the biggest label on Martinique. There were numerous smaller labels, and soon the islands were releasing a vast amount of music, considering their comparatively small size.

This CD covers a small portion of some of the innovative sounds coming out of Martinique and Guadeloupe during the ’60s and early ’70s – the years leading up to the development of zouk – where the islands mixed sounds from Africa and the Caribbean to create a unique blend of rhythms and styles.

www.soundwayrecords.com

Tracklisting:

01. Jeunesse Vauclin – Barel Coppet et Mister Lof
02. Jet Biguine – Les Loups Noirs D’Haïti
03. Pas O Soué La – Abel Zénon
04. Manzè Mona – Raphaël Zachille
05. Henri Te Vlé Mayé – Robert Mavounsy Quartet
06. La Vie Critique – L’Orchestre Jeunesse de Paul-Emile Haliar
07. Mussieu A Têt’a Poisson La – Orchestre Combo Zombi et Michel Yéyé
08. Oriza – Les Kings
09. Colas-la – Claude Rolcin et Le West Indian Combo
10. Ti Fi La Ou Té Madam’ – Anzala, Dolor, Vélo
11. D’Leau Coco – Les Leopards
12. Jojo – Ensemble La Perfecta
13. Dima Bolane – Le Ry-co Jazz
14. Edamise Oh! – Lola Martin
15. Chombo Meringue – Les Aiglons de Basse Terre
16. Son Tambou La – Les Gentlemens
17. Chonga – L’Ensemble Abricot
18. Fileo – Francisco
19. Panty – Monsieur Dolor et Les Guitar Boys
20. Jean Fouillé, Pie Fouillé – Robert Loison

The compilation VariousTumbele! Biguine, Afro And Latin Sounds From The French Caribbean, 1963–74” (Soundway Records) is going to be released October 2, 2009.

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