The French Caribbean–Cosmopolitan, Colonial, Complicated

In the music of the French Antilles – the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe – you can hear influences that range from the traditional béle and gwo ka drumming of the islands’ rural communities, to European additions like polka and French chanson. But when these islands produced a pop genre that took much of the Caribbean and African world by storm – the smooth and sexy dance music zouk, which exploded in the 1980s – it was an entirely new blend that uniquely reflected the complex layers of identity in these Caribbean communities that are, administratively, a full-fledged part of France. Still colonies? Many think so. Either way the Antilles have long produced artists and thinkers with deep sensitivity to the gradations of race, class, migration, and relationship to a powerful, distant metropolis. Now, musicians in Guadeloupe and Martinique are re-exploring their roots, celebrating rhythms that go back to slavery days without pulling back from the cosmopolitanism of recent years. Our guide to this music – and the rich history and ongoing debates that it reflects – is Brenda Berrian of the University of Pittsburgh, whose book, Awakening Spaces: French Caribbean Popular Songs, Music and Culture, is a definitive – and enthusiastic – treatment of the subject.