Death of Jacob Desvarieux, founder and leader of the Kassav ‘group

Death of Jacob Desvarieux, founder and leader of the Kassav ‘group
Death of Jacob Desvarieux, founder and leader of the Kassav ‘group

Jacob Desvarieux, one of the fathers of zouk, died at 65 as a result of Covid-19.

Guadeloupe guitarist Jacob Desvarieux, who died on Friday at the age of 65 as a result of Covid-19, was one of the founders of the group Kassav ‘, a monument in the West Indies which enjoyed enormous success in the 1980s by mixing local music to create a style, the zouk.

In fragile health since a kidney transplant, the musician was hospitalized on July 12 in Pointe-à-Pitre after being contaminated by the coronavirus.

Among the many reactions to his death, that of the Guadeloupe judoka Teddy Riner, who paid tribute to “an immense voice of the West Indies”, while the former minister Christiane Taubira, originally from Guyana, said his sadness, remembering “his voice , his quickdraw, his talent, his joy, that smile, that tilt of his head and even his early dungarees “.

“The West Indies, Africa and music have just lost one of its greatest Ambassadors. Jacob thanks to your art, you have brought the West Indies closer to Africa. Dakar where you lived is crying. Goodbye friend Senegalese singer Youssou Ndour tweeted.

“A laboratory”

“Initially, it was a laboratory: we were looking to find a soundtrack which synthesizes all the traditions and previous sounds, but which can be exported everywhere”, the musician told the newspaper Release in 2016.

A cocktail that will give birth to festive and dancing hits sung in Creole, like Zouk is our only medicine (1984, on an album that Desvarieux co-signs with another founder of Kassav ‘but which does not come out under the name of the group) or Wood saw (1987).

“Through our music, we questioned our origins. What were we doing there, we who were black and spoke French?” Libé Desvarieux, the voice soft and veiled and the hair whitened by the years.

“Like African Americans in the United States, we were looking for answers to pick up the thread of a story that had been confiscated from us,” he added.

Kassav ‘explodes at the same time as the “world music”, the musics of the world: in the middle of the Eighties, the public thirsts for distant and mixed music.

Guadeloupe artists

“Our music had to be ‘West Indian’, that is to say recognized by the West Indians, unlike what was happening then with world music: it was an Anglo-Saxon music with a singer from the Third World, sometimes singing in his own language “, however qualified Jacob Desvarieux.

Kassav ‘(in reference to cassava, a cassava cake) was founded in 1979 by Guadeloupe artists, Pierre-Edouard Decimus (from the group Les Vikings de la Guadeloupe) and Freddy Marshall.

They recruited other musicians, including Desvarieux, born in 1955 in Paris and who, as a guitarist, claimed rock influences, from Chuck Berry to Jimi Hendrix.

The basis of the group’s style is gwo ka, Guadeloupe music marked by drums. He adds other ingredients from all over the Caribbean – Haitian compass, biguine … – and modern packaging, with bass, brass and keyboards.

Kassav’s first album ‘, Love and Ka dance, released in 1979. 1980 marks the first appearance in the group of the one who will become its emblem: the Martinican singer Jocelyne Béroard.

Kassav ‘reached the peak of his popularity at the end of the 80s. He signed a contract with the multinational for the record CBS, released the album Come To in 1987 (platinum disc) and received a Victoire de la musique in 1988.

Praised by the American jazzman Miles Davis, the group goes on to concerts all over the world. And alongside the many albums of Kassav ‘, its members release solo records.

Since then, the zouk fashion has fallen, but Kassav ‘continued to attract a large audience in concert.

Star in metropolitan France

Monument in the West Indies and star in France, the group is also very well known in Africa. The clip of Wood saw was filmed in Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo, which was still called Zaire).

“Africa has opened up to us even before France,” Jocelyne Béroard told Jeune Afrique magazine in 2019. “They didn’t understand Creole, but they repeated more or less phonetically, or they created their own versions,” she smiled. “Zouk is our only medicine (“Zouk is the only medicine we have”, editor’s note) has, for example, become Zouk la, I ate half a kilo of rice!”

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