Kassav'

Creation date : 11/1979
Country : France
Language : Creole
Style of music : Zouk
Members : Jean-Philippe Marthély, Jocelyne Béroard, Jacob Desvarieux, Pierre-Edouard Décimus, Jean-Claude Naimro, Frédéric Caracas, Claude Vamur

Kassav', the zouk group par excellence, which invented zouk, has become a living legend. All the Caribbean musical influences intermingle with funk and rock to produce an unusual, rhythmic cocktail. Enough to make the entire planet dance.

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  • Kassav' website
  • Kassav', the zouk group par excellence, which invented zouk, has become a living legend. All the Caribbean musical influences intermingle with funk and rock to produce an unusual, rhythmic cocktail. Enough to make the entire planet dance.

    The story of Kassav' (the name comes from cassava, which is a mixture of manioc paste and coconut) began in 1979 when Pierre-Edouard Décimus, a member of a dance orchestra since the sixties, decided to revamp and modernise the music he had always played along with Freddy Marshall, another musician from the Antilles. They adored popular carnival music, and so Decimus tried to adapt it to modern musical techniques. They also recruited Jacob Desvarieux, an established studio guitarist, and Georges Décimus, Pierre-Edouard's brother, a bass guitarist, together with other studio musicians.

    The group built up as it went along. The first formation went in to the recording studios in the November and brought out the first Kassav album, entitled "Love and Ka Dance", a couple of months later. A new musical genre had been conceived: zouk. New sounds, particularly bass, keyboards and brass wind instruments, gave this music a modern, festive air, both lively and foot-tapping. This was when Kassav' began writing the history of zouk.

    The second album was called "Lagué mwen" and also came out in 1980. For the first time, Jocelyne Béroard's voice is perceptible in the backing vocals, with Freddy Marshall in the foreground. On this album is one of their first hits, "Soleil". Kassave began to mark the consciousness of an entire generation. On the crest of the wave, they brought out a third album in 1981 and the singer Jean-Philippe Marthély joined them, along with Jean-Claude Naimro on keyboards. In August, the group first appeared on stage, performing throughout the Caribbean. Considerable technical means were used. The group was accompanied by two dancers, Catherine Laupa and Marie-José Gibon, with structured choreography. They also joined in vocals from time to time. Success was assured.

    In 1982, after a fourth, unnamed album, Kassav "broke up" and allowed each singer to bring out solo albums. Kassav' was still there but as an accompaniment. Thus, Jacob Desvarieux brought out his album "Oh Madiana", followed by Georges Décimus with "Avec Kassav' et Cie", on which a new singer appeared: Patrick Saint-Eloi. The latter then brought out "Misik ce lanmou".

    Zouk explodes

    Ralph Thamar contributed to the fifth album of the group, published in 1983, with "My doudou". The wheels were turning. Georges Décimus brought out another solo album, "La Vie", as did Jacob Desvarieux with "Banzawa", and Jean-Philippe Marthély with "Ti coq".

    This did not stop them working for the group, and at the end of the year they brought out the Kassav' album "Passeport". Then the seventh album, "Ayé", came out in 1984. Patrick Saint-Eloi recorded his second record, "Zouké". The group then went on tour again, during the carnival period in February and March, through Guadeloupe and Martinique. The tour resumed in August, even going to Haiti. Another Kassav' album came out at Christmas that year, "Yélélé", containing the track "Zouk la sé sèl médickaman nou ni" (Zouk is our only medicine). This hit brought the group international fame far beyond the Caribbean.

    Kassav' was on a high at the beginning of 1985. Jean-Philippe Marthély brought out a second solo album, "Rété", followed by that of Jean-Claude Naimro on keyboards, called "An balatè". Literally borne by the wave of popularity due to "Zouk la sé sèl médikaman nou ni", the entire team began a tour of Africa. This was their first tour outside the Caribbean, and included a visit to the Ivory Coast in March, where they were a runaway success. Other African countries were toured and the musicians and singers seemed to find their roots and the origin of their music.

    Kassav' then found itself in metropolitan France for the first in a long series of concerts at the Zénith, the famous Paris venue, which was sold out a month ahead of the concert on June 22 1985, with no promotion at all. From July till the end of the year, the tour continued through various countries: Algeria, Guyana, Saint-Martin, Saint Lucia, Angola (with 30,000 people at the concert in Luanda), Portugal, Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo, Benin, Gabon, the Ivory Coast and, of course, the Antilles. To finish off this exceptional year, the two singers, Patrick Saint-Eloi and Jean-Philippe Marthély, brought out a new album, "Bizness".

    This was all a fir cry from the amateur groups from the Antilles which had been in existence before Kassav' appeared on the market. In early 1986, they celebrated their first Golden Disc in front of an audience of 40,000 in Guadeloupe. From May 1st to 4th, they performed at the Zénith, a true Parisian consecration. The only dampener on the proceedings was the death of trumpeter André Laïdli, from badly treated jaundice during a series of concerts in Gabon.

    On June 21, the festival of music in France, a Caribbean carnival was organised in Paris for the first time. At the end of the parade, the by now mythical group gave a concert for 250,000 people on the Reuilly sports ground. This was their opportunity to present "Gorée" (the island off Senegal where African slaves to be shipped to America were gathered). This was a record by Georges Décimus and Jacob Desvarieux, written after a visit to the Slave prison on the island. This was followed by more concerts in Portugal, Senegal, Zaïre etc. Then Jocelyne Béroard, who had long since left the backing vocals for a position at the front of the stage) brought out her first album, "Siwo", which became the first Golden Disc awarded to a female singer from the Antilles.

    1987: "Vini pou"

    Kassav' did not stop there and the tours continued in 1987, with performances in front of ever-renewed audiences in Switzerland, Brazil, Mali or Belgium. They returned for their now annual concerts at the Zenith in Paris, from April 30 to May 9. In November, they brought out "Vini pou" with CBS, the recording multinational This became a Golden Disc two weeks after coming out. All their albums were now in the big league, and they won the Victoire de la Musique award for the best group in Paris, 1988. The Kassav' machine had everyone in the world on zouk, whether in the United States, Japan, or Europe.

    In 1989, Kassav' won the Francophonie prize in Quebec. In July, it won the privilege of being the first black group to perform in Russia. Their tenth birthday present was the Platinum Disk for "Majestic zouk". Once again, they played at the Zenith in Paris from December 14 to 24. The decade was finishing on a high note and the next looked like doing the same. Year after year, Kassav continued its tours on every continent, and in 1990 they won the award for the best show from the RFI African referendum.

    The CBS contract stipulated that no solo album by members of the group could be brought out for three years, in order to give some cohesion to promotion of the group. Thus, Jocelyne Béroard waited until 1991 to bring out her second album, "Milans", and so did Jean-Philippe Marthely with "Black Jack", a collaboration with Ronald Rubinel. In the first change of group structure, Georges Décimus, one of the founder members, left, to be replaced by Frédéric Caracas.

    First steps in the Cinema

    The group's musical destiny was slightly sent off course in 1992 by their film debut. Euzhan Palcy, the director of "Rue Case Nègre", which won the French César for the best first film, and "Une Saison blanche et sèche", recruited them for various roles in his latest film, "Siméon". The theme song of the film was "Mwen alé", sung of course by Kassav', which included the track on their new album, "Tékit Izi", full of loopy rhythms and energetic brass and steel band sounds. On this album, the group also introduced a new style, Raggamuffin zouk, a mixture of reggae and zouk, with the song "Lévé Tèt Ou". Worthy of note was the fact that Kassav decided to put translations of all the songs into French on the record sleeve. The band's crooner, Patrick Saint-Eloi, also recorded a solo album, "Bizouk".

    Jean-Philippe Marthely signed a new solo album, "Si sé taw", in 1993, while Jean-Claude Naimro left the group for a year for a period with Peter Gabriel. He was replaced by Thierry Vaton. Kassav continued to tour and obtained the Best Group trophy at the West Indies Awards in New York, and the AfriCar Award in Abidjan.

    1995: "Difé"

    The group's activity slowed down despite a few tours here and there (in France and abroad). Some critics began muttering about boredom thresholds, zouk being out of fashion, etc. Yet this did not stop Patrick Saint-Eloi bringing out his new album, "Zoukamine", and preparing a new album with Kassav.' On July 1st 1995 "Difé", the new album, came out, featuring the single "Difé soupapé", remixed by Bruce Swedien and René Moore (Michael Jackson's sound engineer and programmer). Also invited were Cuban percussionist Ray Baretto, drummer Manu Katché and even Stevie Wonder on the harmonica! The song "Pa ni pwoblème" was written with assistance from Patrick Chamoiseau, the 1992 Goncourt Prizewinner (a French literary prize). In October, Kassav' hit the road again for a tour which, of course, led it back to the Zenith, Paris, in March 1996, followed by other dates in metropolitan France, Europe, the Antilles, and even Canada, for the Francofolies at Montreal. In April, "Difé" won a golden disk. October saw a live album, "Kassav'Cho", and the year ended with the album "Marthéloy", a combined effort by Marthély and Saint-Eloi.

    In May Jocelyne Béroard and Jacob Desvarieux were honoured with the title "Officiers du Mérite" in Senegal by President Abdou Diouf.

    The year 1997 saw a new recording by Jean-Claude Naimro, "Digital Dread". Kassav' was nominated Best Group at the Afric Awards, Libreville. Solo albums continued to appear, with Jean-Philippe Marthély's "O peyi" the following year, and "Lovtans" by Patrick Saint-Eloi. Some, indeed, thought that this recording overkill (a total of over 30 albums) was what kept Kassav' at the head of the ratings, since the public had no time to forget them between two hits.

    Kassav's music proved to be phenomenally popular in Latin America. Indeed, a whole host of groups began adapting - some would even say 'plagiarising' - Kassav's hits in Spanish. Kassav' grew tired of this phenomenon and decided it was time to hit back. So in October 97 the group flew out to Cuba and set about recording their own album in Spanish. The tracks on Kassav's new album were recorded in the legendary EGREM studio with the very best Cuban sound engineers and then mixed in Miami in Gloria Estefan's Crescent Moon studios. Kassav's new album, "Un toque latino", was released in November 1998 on Sony.

    The album pulsated with a perfect fusion of zouk and salsa rhythms and featured some very interesting re-workings of Kassav's greatest hits. Two songs on the new album remained in Creole (including the famous "Zouk la sé sel medikaman nou ni") but other Kassav classics were adapted into Spanish ("Siwo" became "Molo, malisimo" for example). The standard of songwriting on Kassav's new album was extremely high as the group enlisted the aid of the Spanish-born songwriter Etienne Roda-Gil (famous for writing a whole stack of hits for French artists such as Julien Clerc). Kassav's zouk/salsa fusion marked a new phase in the evolution of zouk, as the group's innovative new sound was not just a commercial venture. It also provided an important bridge between West Indian and Latin American culture.

    20th Anniversary Celebrations

    1999 proved to be a busy year for Kassav. Jean-Claude Naimro branched out on his own at the start of the year, releasing a solo album which was swiftly followed by "Best of 20e anniversaire", a compilation celebrating Kassav's 20 years in showbizz. (This compilation featured a selection of the group's most popular hits as well as three new bonus tracks). On June 12th and 13th Kassav brought the house down at Bercy stadium in Paris, 32,000 fans flocking to see them in concert at the city's biggest venue.

    Following their triumphant performance in Paris, the group then headed back to the Antilles to celebrate their 20th anniversary in Guadeloupe (July 10th) and Martinique (July 17th). After flying out to the States to play two dates in New York and Boston, the group returned to France and embarked upon an extensive tour. Then, in December '99, it was Jacob Desvarieux's turn to branch out on his own, releasing a solo album entitled "Euphrazine Blues".

    After all this hectic activity, Kassav could have laid back and rested on their laurels for a while, but by December '99 the group were already hard at work preparing songs for their next album. Released in June 2000, "Nou la" (short for "Nou la, nou byen la" - We're here, really here!) featured 15 tracks recorded in Toulouse and mixed in Paris. But it was clear that the songs had been written and lovingly prepared in Martinique, the group's eternal source of inspiration.

    In the autumn of 2000 Kassav' embarked upon a sun-filled tour of a series of tropical islands, playing concerts in Mayotte, the Seychelles, the Comores, Dominique and Curacao.

    With their long and successful career still going strong, Kassav were presented with a "Music Award" in Martinique for their anniversary concert. Meanwhile, Patrick carried off the Sacem award for "Best Artist from Guadeloupe." Kassav' continued their hectic tour schedule right through until the start of 2002, then took a well-deserved sabbatical. Later that year, Patrick announced he was leaving the group.

    In 2003, different members of the group devoted time to individual projects. Jocelyne released a solo album entitled "Madousinay" and Jacob Desvarieux got involved with "Dis l’heure 2 Zouk," the hit compilation masterminded by French rap star Passi. By the end of the year, Kassav were back together on the road again, playing dates across the Caribbean, Belgium, France, Italy and Switzerland.

    2004: "K’Toz"

    In 2004, Kassav made a major comeback on the recording front with the release of their fourteenth (!) studio album, "K’Toz." The group proved their popularity was stronger than ever when they brought the house down, playing to a 60,000-strong crowd at the 20th anniversary of the "Baïa das Gatas" festival, held on the island of Sao Vicente in Cape Verde.

    In February 2005, Kassav' played three sold-out concerts at Le Zenith, in Paris. One of the band’s gigs was filmed live and highlights were released a few months later on their "Carnaval Tour" DVD. In April 2006, Kassav’ were back in record stores in France and across the French West Indies with a greatest hits album entitled "Le meilleur de Kassav'." Meanwhile, up until the end of 2006, the five members of the band continued their hectic schedule on the live circuit, appearing at various music festivals where they headlined alongside the likes of reggae star Jimmy Cliff. In September, Jean-Philippe Marthély, one of the group’s singers released a solo album, "Koule Ianmou."

    2007: "All U need is Zouk"

    Fans had to wait until the winter of 2007 to enjoy a series of new Kassav’ compositions. With a cheeky nod to the Beatles’ "All You Need is Love", the zouk supergroup called their new album "All U Need is Zouk", asserting their firmly-held belief that zouk is no longer a craze, but a music style that is here to stay. The group’s fourteen-track album, recorded in Creole, proved to be a danceable, festive affair, featuring a host of upbeat tracks such as "Zouk Party", "Bodé Apiyé" and "Pli Bel Flè" as well as more reflective songs rooted in the history of the French West Indies ("Doubout Pikan" and "Fo pa fann").

     

    Kassav' celebrated twenty years in the trade in 2009 with an impressive series of concerts. Starting off in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, they moved on to France, where the group filled the Zénith in Paris four times before stoking up an audience of 65,000 at the Stade de France on 16 May with a clutch of guests including Fally Ipupa, Jocelyne Labylle and Tanya Saint-Val.
     
    The anniversary zouk night was immortalised on a CD and DVD (“Live au Stade de France”), accompanied by the release of a triple compilation album (“Saga”) covering Kassav’s career that sold for the price of a CD. Next, Kassav’ went off to celebrate in the provinces, then in Guadeloupe, Martinique, Algeria, the USA and Haiti, ending up Dakar, Senegal in December. The famous “zoukers” appeared to be inexhaustible.
     
    But in 2010, just as they were getting ready to fly off to the USA for five concerts, two of the group’s eighteen members had their visa applications refused. The tour was cancelled.
     
    The members of the group were very upset at the death of their former colleague and longstanding friend Patrick Saint-Eloi, who died in Pointe-à-Pitre on 18 September 2010.
     
    Kassav’ picked up their tour again in July 2011. The band performed in Tours, followed by Montreal, Boston, Haiti and Benin in August.
     
    2013: "Sonjé"

    The singer’s sixteenth album came out in May 2013. With "Sonjé", the group’s five long-standing musicians paid homage to their late “brother”, Patrick Saint-Eloi. The melancholic tone is spiced up with Kassav's familiar dance rhythm, and Creole lyrics about West Indian identity.

    A new world tour entitled “Mawonaj tour” took them to the Zénith de Paris from 7 to 9 June 2013.

    February 2014

     

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