Zouk first exploded into international attention during the 1980s, when the pioneering group Kassav’ essentially invented the genre by fusing popular musical styles from across the French Caribbean. Driven by a beat that was at once flexible, insistently catchy, and simple enough for anyone to dance to, the style quickly gained massive popularity.
While the zouk craze may not have survived in America, the music has gone global, putting down roots in countries around the world. The result is modern zouk, an updated version of the style that twists together music from many sources–Brazil, Africa, Jamaica, America–while still staying uniquely Caribbean. For more on zouk history, check out our interview with Professor Brenda Berrian. Below, sample the magic from some of today’s hottest zouk stars:
Cape Verdean singer-songwriter and producer Nelson Freitas actually started out as a breakdancer. He later appeared on the music scene as frontman of the group Quatro, and it wasn’t until 2006 that Freitas (who also goes by the moniker Mister Magic) emerged as a zouk artist with his solo debut Magic. Freitas’ music is a soft fusion of zouk and contemporary r&b, a style that he further popularized in 2010 with My Life, the album on which we hear this catchy hit, “Rebound Chick.”
Djodje is another Cape Verdean who’s made a big name for himself in zouk. When he was just 10 years old, he formed the group TC with some family members and friends. From there he launched his solo career, debuting in 2006 with the album Always TC. Djodje’s music, which carries elements of pop and dancehall, has seen wild success and has led to a number of international tours.
Congolese singer/rapper/producer Kaysha has been hot on the zouk scene since 1998, when he first wowed audiences with his hit single “Bounce Baby.” He has since released two more albums, It’s All Love (2003) and African Bohemian (2005), each enjoying comparable levels of success, partially due to the fact that Kaysha’s music is well suited to zouk-lambada, the dance style typically associated with zouk.
Pedro Lisboa Santos a.k.a C4 Pedro began his musical career in collaboration with his brother Lil Sain’t in Belgium, where he lived for 10 years before returning to his home country of Angola. He has since become one of the most recognized names in the Angolan music market and is best known for this seductively smooth hit, “Casamento” (Wedding).
Haitian singer-songwriter Katia Cadet has certainly done her part in bringing the sounds of zouk further into our mainstream music market. In 2000, she co-wrote the hit song “911”, performed by Wyclef Jean and Mary J. Blige, a project that landed her a Grammy nomination and a position on the writing team for the soundtrack of Rush Hour 3. In 2011, this single, “With You,” took the zouk scene by storm, and its video (produced by none other than Kaysha) aired on MTV Base. Her latest album, I Am Boundless (2013), fuses zouk, dancehall, pop and r&b.
In the late 1990s, eight men left Haiti to independently further their educations in America. A few years later, these men regrouped to form the compas band Carimi. Compas, a Haitian genre, has its own distinct history from zouk, but sometimes the lines are blurry, as many French-speaking Caribbean artists have crossed musical lines. Carimi is known as one of the first younger generation compas band to discuss political issues in their lyrics. But their appeal is larger than just this: Carimi’s unique take on the compas genre has gained them international popularity.
French Guiana-born Fanny Jacques-André-Coquin was first discovered in the early 2000s by zouk songwriter and producer Warren. Warren took a shine to Fanny and wrote her “Ancrée à ton port,” which premiered in 2007 on her debut album Vous les Hommes. This immediate success led to her adoption of the stage name Fanny J, and in 2012, she and Warren formed the zouk record label UM Music. The song we’re featuring is Fanny and rapper Mokobé’s remix of “Ancrée à ton port,” which reached number 12 on the official French singles chart.
Yet another Haitian compas band tearing up the zouk scene is T-Vice. The group was formed by Roberto and Reynaldo Martino, sons of the legendary Robert Martino, lead guitarist of Top Vice, a compas band that, alongside Carimi, rose to popularity in the early 2000s. T-Vice is known for revving up the energy with their “party scene” music, as “Resan” and its music video certainly demonstrate.
Thanks to Marcy DePina for her help with this article.