Do you know which is the first French group that has blackmailed the Stade de France? In six letters: Kassav’. The musical formation, holder of a Zénith de Paris record, has been making “zouker” to the whole world for more than forty years.
His successful formula? L’association de voix et de talents, venus de la Guadeloupe et de la Martinique, ceux de Pierre-Edouard et George Decimus, Jacob Desvarieux, Jean-Philippe Marthély, Jean-Claude Naimro, Patrick Saint-Eloi et Jocelyne Béroard pour sublimer le everything. “The longevity of Kassav ‘is this: the pleasure and security that we all experience on stage”, she confides in her memoirs entitled far from bitterpublished on March 17.
At 67, the charismatic singer of the group, who joined this crazy adventure in 1983, talks about her life as a woman and an artist. The first female gold record in the West Indies, it also tells the rich history of the Kassav’ family, of West Indian music since the 1960s, and her love of zouk. 20 minutes met the musical icon, currently starring in the film Zeponto talk about their struggles and the future of the famous group, after the death of one of its leaders Jacob Desvarieux, last July.
You received an education in which the French language was privileged. How did the criollo who defends today vindicate himself?
In the West Indies of the time, the French language was essential in the instruction to climb the ladder. Learning to play an instrument allowed one to be a little admired, I learned Creole in the courtyard in a month, when I was 8 years old at the municipal school in 1962. Not in Creole. And for some people, it was disrespectful to their parents to speak to them in Creole. We heard Creole words in songs, but we didn’t know them. We didn’t know how to speak it, we didn’t practice it. When I was Teen (teenager), my mother told me proverbs in Creole, pointing out the beauty of certain phrases. When you speak Creole, you have to know the turns, because there are rules. There are many people who make Gallicisms in Creole [un créole très francisé]. I remain convinced that I must make this mistake from time to time, since I taught myself, so I buy dictionaries and Creole grammar books.
You have seen Caribbean music evolve. What do you think?
In the 1950s, there were many bands playing in Paris, such as Léona Gabriel-Soïme [chanteuse martiniquaise de biguine]Robert Mavounzy or Joby Valente who had heard singing engrave the scratch. When I started doing backing vocals on stage, it was what we called dances. Caribbean-Guyanese evenings, a bit select, in which people listened to us dance. Kassav’ decided to stop this obligatory dance story and brought his music to the stage. We didn’t want to just play in dance halls. Nowadays, if a lot of people can do concerts on stage, it was rather on the initiative of Kassav’.
Are you proud of that?
Oh well yes. When you make music, when people come to your concerts, that’s the best reward for all your effort. Now, it’s not because the public is there that we won it. Spectators must leave happy. We still have to give, strive not to disappoint the public. It is a perpetual exchange, a perpetual work.
“Kids today who do zouk, they call it pop music, R&B and all kinds of other things, while the color of the zouk is there. So why not give him his name? »
With Kassav’, you evolved in a very masculine environment: how did you establish yourself as a woman?
A: I didn’t ask myself any questions. Two: the sofa promotion is not for me. So, I think to the extent that I respected myself, I was respected. I wasn’t playing seduction, I wanted to join this group. I considered that when I was called to do choirs in that group, I was part of it. Point bar. Where they needed me, I was there.
Do you think it’s easier for singers today?
No, because if you don’t know what you want, you can depend on the boys. I complained several times to my female colleagues that they were being cheated on by men. They were creating their own song, their music with the lyrics, and now the guys who were just arranging it thought it was their song too. They took 50% instead of 10%. I warned several of them, because it is not done and it annoys me.
You address the class contempt to which the zouk has fallen victim and also your struggles as a West Indian artist in France. Have attitudes changed?
One thing is still missing for many people to understand: the West Indies are not quite France. Guadeloupe and Martinique are 8,000 kilometers from France, they do not have the same history. It is not because we are French, that we have learned the French language that we are like the French. And if we know French culture, it is because it was imposed on us, while the French have not had the opportunity to know ours. So they stay in their prejudices, on the exotic side. They knew Kassav’, of course, but the only reference they still throw in my face is the duo. kole sere with Philippe Lavil, who is a friend, as if my career had stopped on this song.
People just haven’t taken the time to look at what others have done in forty years. And it’s sad because that means they are missing out on a lot of beautiful things, they only knew Zouk la sé sel médikaman nou ni, Syé Bwa and possibly Ou Lé. When we signed with Sony in 1987, we were voted the best French group at the Victoires de la Musique. But a few years later, we returned to the categories of “best French-speaking group” or “musicians of the world”. They refuse to name our music… And the less we name your name, the less you exist. Today’s kids who do zouk, they call it pop music, R&B and all kinds of things, while the color of the zouk is there. So why not give him his name?
Is that why each chapter of your book begins with an excerpt from a song by your band or that you have composed for others?
Yes, I did it on purpose because people don’t listen to the lyrics of the songs! Nine times out of ten, they miss the message. For example, my song Lanmè Mové is thought to be about big waves due to the French translation of the title meaning “the sea was bad”, when in fact it is about war…
What advice would you give to the younger generation?
To believe in her. Not forgetting who she is. That following fashion can make you win, but maybe not for a long time since fashions pass. It is better to have personality, originality and above all to love what you do.
How are you and how is the band after the death of Jacob Desvarieux?
The group goes. We are in a gap year. They all do a lot of things that they haven’t had a chance to do before. I wrote the book. Jean-Claude [Naimro] do something else. Jorge [Decimus] also. They all continue to live. The group is supposed to reunite in 2023.