Kassav’: “The work of Jacob Desvarieux is the artistic expression of an identity revolution”

In «L’œuvre de Jacob Desvarieux est l’expression artistique d’une révolution identitaire» (Le Monde, Tribune, 11 August 2021), social scientist and anthropologist Stéphanie Mulot (Université Toulouse-Jean-Jaurès) recently wrote a tribute to Jacob Desvarieux that underscores the importance of zouk. She writes, “The creation of zouk in Guadeloupe by Jacob Desvarieux with the Kassav ‘group was the fruit of a deep political commitment, rehabilitating the scorned identity and language of the heirs of slavery.” Here are translated excerpts from Le Monde:

Jacob Desvarieux [who died on July 30 in Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe)] used to say that it was necessary to pay tribute to people while they were still alive… And here I am taking a pen while his death continues to resound like an earthquake in the musical world … The work of this giant is forever inscribed in the world history of music, culture, and the arts. Miles Davis [in 1988], Niles Rodgers, Marcus Miller, Peter Gabriel, Manu Katché, Youssou N’Dour, Wyclef Jean, Nelo Carvalho, Alpha Blondy, and so many renowned artists have already testified to this.

International conferences, musical lessons, La Maison du Zouk in Angola all consecrate it. This work is also the fruit of a deep political commitment, that of the rehabilitation of an identity and a scorned language—those of the heirs of slavery—and of the affirmation of cultural pride in the Afro-Caribbean and African worlds. Zouk is not a minor musical art, contrary to what an elitist or doudouist [participating in a folkloric and fixed view of the Caribbean/the Antilles] gaze might suggest, but rather the artistic expression of an identity revolution.

Creole language mocked or prohibited

When the group was created, thanks to Georges and Pierre-Edouard Décimus in 1979, Guadeloupe saw a period of growing nationalist and anti-colonial mobilizations. The latter oppose the policy of assimilation, which for more than a century had resulted in denigrating different aspects of local culture and African origins in order to promote the imposed French culture as the only legitimate reference.

Creole—although it is the most widely spoken popular and vernacular language—was discredited, even mocked or prohibited in institutions and official social relations, in order to impose French in a relationship of linguistic domination. The Gwo Ka—embodied by the master “tanbouyé” [drummer] Marcel Lollia, AKA Vélo, and played in the traditional evenings known as Lewoz—was considered inferior to other—particularly, French or Anglo-European—music.

The colonial enterprise had, in fact, stigmatized the legacies of slavery, and made symbolic breaks with Africa, presented as a less civilized and inglorious origin, but also with the other islands of the Caribbean. [. . .]

Read full article with subscription at https://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2021/08/10/kassav-l-uvre-de-jacob-desvarieux-est-l-expression-artistique-d-une-revolution-identitaire_6091076_3232.html?

Photo above from https://tt.loopnews.com/content/kassav-co-founder-jacob-desvarieux-has-died-5

In «L’œuvre de Jacob Desvarieux est l’expression artistique d’une révolution identitaire» (Le Monde, Tribune, 11 August 2021), social scientist and anthropologist Stéphanie Mulot (Université Toulouse-Jean-Jaurès) recently wrote a tribute to Jacob Desvarieux that underscores the importance of zouk. She writes, “The creation of zouk in Guadeloupe by Jacob Desvarieux with the Kassav ‘group was the fruit of a deep political commitment, rehabilitating the scorned identity and language of the heirs of slavery.” Here are translated excerpts from Le Monde:

Jacob Desvarieux [who died on July 30 in Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe)] used to say that it was necessary to pay tribute to people while they were still alive… And here I am taking a pen while his death continues to resound like an earthquake in the musical world … The work of this giant is forever inscribed in the world history of music, culture, and the arts. Miles Davis [in 1988], Niles Rodgers, Marcus Miller, Peter Gabriel, Manu Katché, Youssou N’Dour, Wyclef Jean, Nelo Carvalho, Alpha Blondy, and so many renowned artists have already testified to this.

International conferences, musical lessons, La Maison du Zouk in Angola all consecrate it. This work is also the fruit of a deep political commitment, that of the rehabilitation of an identity and a scorned language—those of the heirs of slavery—and of the affirmation of cultural pride in the Afro-Caribbean and African worlds. Zouk is not a minor musical art, contrary to what an elitist or doudouist [participating in a folkloric and fixed view of the Caribbean/the Antilles] gaze might suggest, but rather the artistic expression of an identity revolution.

Creole language mocked or prohibited

When the group was created, thanks to Georges and Pierre-Edouard Décimus in 1979, Guadeloupe saw a period of growing nationalist and anti-colonial mobilizations. The latter oppose the policy of assimilation, which for more than a century had resulted in denigrating different aspects of local culture and African origins in order to promote the imposed French culture as the only legitimate reference.

Creole—although it is the most widely spoken popular and vernacular language—was discredited, even mocked or prohibited in institutions and official social relations, in order to impose French in a relationship of linguistic domination. The Gwo Ka—embodied by the master “tanbouyé” [drummer] Marcel Lollia, AKA Vélo, and played in the traditional evenings known as Lewoz—was considered inferior to other—particularly, French or Anglo-European—music.

The colonial enterprise had, in fact, stigmatized the legacies of slavery, and made symbolic breaks with Africa, presented as a less civilized and inglorious origin, but also with the other islands of the Caribbean. [. . .]

Read full article with subscription at https://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2021/08/10/kassav-l-uvre-de-jacob-desvarieux-est-l-expression-artistique-d-une-revolution-identitaire_6091076_3232.html?

Photo above from https://tt.loopnews.com/content/kassav-co-founder-jacob-desvarieux-has-died-5

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