Music in Guadeloupe Archipelago
In Guadeloupe Archipelago, Music plays a significant role in the way people celebrate, connect, interact, and relay historic events. The archipelago has a multi-faceted identity where Indian rite, African memory and the rule of the 17th-century colonists are part of everyday life. This is the reason why music and therefore dance are extremely diversified.
In fact, there is always a special occasion or event to gather the population and celebrate with Music.
Guadeloupe Archipelago is in the Lesser Antilles and therefore is quite close to multiple English, Spanish, Creole-speaking Caribbean islands. That is why Kompa from Haiti, Calypso and Soca from Trinidad and Tobago, Merengue from Dominican Republic and Salsa from Cuba are popular over there.
Other famous musical styles from the African continent include: Soukouss and Ndombolo from the Congo, Kizomba and Kuduro from Angola and lately Afrobeat from Nigeria. Hip-Hop and Trap music from the United States as well as Bouyon from Dominica have been quite trendy these past years. Young people are mostly the ones who are listening and dancing on these musical styles.
This blog post will give you a brief description of some traditional Music part of Guadeloupe Archipelago culture
Disclaimer: Please bear in mind that it is not an exhaustive list
Gwoka is an absolute representation of Guadeloupe Archipelago’s identity. This artistic movement composed of music, dance and singing has emerged in the beginning of the 18th century during the slavery era.
During this period, the slaves were working all week long in extremely poor conditions. Therefore, every Saturday night, they were gathering to sing and dance on the Ka* rhythm to decompress after a stressful week. These gatherings also called Léwoz* were a powerful communication tool for them, to forget their horrible circumstances.
*Ka is a drum made from barrels, normally reserved for freight transport.
*Léwoz is basically when les tambouyés (drummers), the lead singer and répondè (the public and other musicians) are forming a circle. Then, dancers are coming one after another to perform in the middle by facing the drums. Meanwhile, the public claps and repeat the chorus after the lead singer. The other musical instrument part of the Léwoz is the shac-shac.
Gwoka has 7 rhythms:
Graj, Kaladja, Léwoz, Mendé, Padjembèl, Toumblak and Woulé.
Each rhythm represents a specific emotion or state of mind that the slaves were experiencing at this time. For instance, Kaladja which is quite slow is more on the sadness and heartbreak side. Mendé on the other hand is faster, more vibrant and expresses joy as well as celebration.
In November 2014, Gwoka has been registered on the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Gwoka has been at the heart of Guadeloupe Archipelago’s culture more than ever. From festive and cultural events to social movements, Gwoka conveys values of dignity from one generation to another. Most people from Guadeloupe Archipelago are taking great pride in their heritage.
Quadrille is native to mainland France and has been imported in Guadeloupe Archipelago in the 18th century. Originally, Quadrille was the colonialists’ Music during traditional balls. Later on, the slaves have adopted and integrated some African rhythms in it.
The main musical instruments of a Quadrille band are an accordion, a bamboo guiro, a bass guitar, a guitar, a hand drum, a shac-shac and a triangle.
There are 7 figures in Quadrille dancing : l’entrée, la valse, le pantalon, l’été, la poule, la pastourelle et la finale (la biguine). Le commandeur is an important person who is conducting the entire dance. He is the one who gives instructions to execute the different figures. Usually his first sentence is: “Cavaliers aux dames!” following by the name of the figure.
Nowadays, Quadrille is still quite trendy in Guadeloupe Archipelago. As a matter of fact, there are several Quadrille workshops and associations making sure that this cultural heritage is widely convey. The Quadrille dance described above is Le Quadrille au commandement. The initial Quadrille from mainland France and le Quadrille des Lanciers are two other styles taught in Guadeloupe Archipelago.
Biguine is another popular Music of the 19th century. Initially, Biguine was born in Martinique in the early 19th then expands in Guadeloupe Archipelago later. This musical genre has been created by the emancipated slaves, who were performing during colonists’ balls. The name Biguine comes from the English verb begin because that was the first music of the ball.
Usually, a Biguine orchestra is all about a clarinet, a trombone, a banjo, and drums. This musical style has different influences including New Orleans jazz and Afro-Cuban jazz.
Between 1930 and 1940, Biguine became quite popular in mainland France and many bands moved over there. At this time, people were enjoying the Music in balls or cabarets every week-end.
Biguine dance comes in 3 styles:
- The couple dance: Biguine de bal
- The Carnival dance: Biguine de rue
- Biguine de salon which also includes the violin
Although Biguine is not as quite famous as it used to be back in the 19th, there are multiple cultural events with Biguine performances all year long in Guadeloupe Archipelago. Many people are committed to convey the tradition to the youngest so, it is quite easy to find associations offering Biguine workshops. Afterward, they are performing in arts centres, town halls or school events.
As mentioned earlier, Guadeloupe Archipelago has always enjoyed various musical styles from neighbouring Islands and other countries. This is precisely in this context that Zouk which has different influences has been created.
Zouk is literally the musical genre of Guadeloupe Archipelago and Martinique. The name Zouk means dance parties, and Zouké which is the verb stands for dancing.
As a quite young Music, Zouk has started in 1979 with a band called Kassav. This internationally known band is the foundation of Zouk thanks to their creativity. They blended a variety of music genres by using various musical instruments.
They used the traditional Ka from Gwoka and Ti-bwa* from Bèlè (Music from Martinique). Other instruments include: guitar, hi-hat, saxophone, synthesiser, timbales, trombone, and trumpet. This musical concoction came with pleasant vocals from a lead and backup singers.
*Ti-bwa is a percussion instrument made of a piece of bamboo laid horizontally and beaten with sticks
Zouk is a partner dance. Usually, the man encircles the woman’s waist while she puts her arms around his neck and the couple dances very closely.
Over the year multiple versions of Zouk have emerged, due to the influence of other musical genres. The original Zouk that Kassav band has created is called Zouk Béton. Later on, Zouk love which has a slower beat became trendy. Dancing on Zouk Love is quite sensual, usually the couple dance collé-serré (sticky-tight). Raggazouk and Zouk RnB are other famous variations of Zouk.
Zouk love dance
Finally, I am going to dedicate a short description to Reggae/ Dancehall. This Music from Jamaica has had a great impact among young people in Guadeloupe Archipelago. Since late 20th century/ early 21st century, a new generation of Reggae/ Dancehall artists has emerged, highlighting more and more talented singers.
Lot of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds used the musical genre, to express themselves. Common topics included denouncement of colonialism, oppression, and exclusion. Although Reggae/Dancehall is 100% from Jamaica, the artists from Guadeloupe Archipelago embraced it by using Creole and French languages.
The sound system is an important part of Jamaican culture and history. The culture of the Sound System was brought to Guadeloupe Archipelago. Since the beginning of the movement 2 decades ago, Sound system events featured highly skilled singers. Some of them managed to export their styles overseas and even doing some collaboration with Jamaican artists. The Reggae/Dancehall local, made in Guadeloupe Archipelago has successfully built a strong identity over the years.
This was such a vivid post. It made me want to visit Guadeloupe Archipelago someday. Thanks for giving such a detailed overview of what things are like there.
Thanks for stopping by. I am glad you enjoyed this post and I encourage you to visit the Archipelago whenever you will be able to do so.I have lots of posts coming up soon and I hope they will increase your desire to visit. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.
great info, inspiring post…and in fact, I’ll be visiting Guadeloupe this February 2023 and I am highly interested in the music culture, being myself a drummer and songwriter as well as performer here in Germany, so let me know if there is any possibility to participate in a drum workshop, visit concerts, traditional or modern of Guadeloupe local musicians, performers and bands and/or if you would be up in planning a kind of atelier/workshop lecturing about music to a student group that I am plannung to bring to Guadeloupe later in the year, all the best for now, TOM
Thank you for stopping by and I’m glad to know you will be visiting Guadeloupe. There are so many amazing places to discover. Actually, February is the perfect month to go as a drummer because of the carnival. You will be able to see so many categories of bands. Find out more here: https://guadeloupearc.com/carnival/
You can probably contact few of the bands to know if there is a possibility to plan a workshop for your students in the future. Here are the most popular:
– Akiyo in Abymes
– Voukoum in Basse-Terre
– Mass Moul Massif in Le Moule
– Kasika in Capesterre Belle-Eau
In terms of drum workshops, I would suggest you to contact:
– La Clé des Arts in Baie-Mahault
– Association Guadeloupe Patrimoine in Saint-Anne
I hope you find what you are looking for.
All the best,