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Best of The Beat on Afropop: Zouk–Magic Music of the French Antilles, Part One


We are very pleased to present this multipart series on the music of the French Antilles from The Beat magazine, to accompany Afropop Worldwide‘s program on the French Caribbean.

beat54zoukpt1p27-1In the mid-‘80s, the popular dance music known as zouk had began to spread from its birthplace in Guadeloupe to the nightclubs and radio airwaves of Paris, Africa and North America. In those pre-Internet days news traveled much more slowly. There was really no way to have real-time information about music trends. We relied on record shops and distributors to import music from abroad, and were lucky if we found it available.

One fine day on my African Beat radio program, a new album appeared. We were puzzled: Where did it come from? We didn’t know of the group: Kassav’? The music was brilliant and clearly for dancing but not in a style we immediately recognized: It apparently wasn’t African or anything we knew from the Caribbean. The songs were in a foreign language but we couldn’t figure out which one: it was not exactly French or any other of the African languages we were familiar with. And we couldn’t stop playing it.

kassav-postersbyccsmith1986This eventually led to one of the greatest adventures of my life in music research. Music journalist Gene Scaramuzzo and I traveled to the French Antilles in 1986 to explore the roots of zouk, which kept getting deeper and deeper until we’d produced four lengthy Hip Deep-worthy articles describing the artists, musicians, producers and history of this newly sprouted music. I hope you will enjoy these well-written and informative stories. As far as I know, these were the first English-language non-academic articles to be published about zouk. I’m extremely proud of The Beat’s role in bringing zouk to the attention of the world, and to share them with Afropop’s audience anew.

READ OR DOWNLOAD PDF: beat54zoukpt1

Listen to Afropop’s program “Hip Deep: French Caribbean—Cosmopolitan, Colonial, Complicated”



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