Zouk Fever

By Carlos Marcondes

If you are seeking to party on the beautiful island of Martinique, you will surely enjoy the true beauty of the French Caribbean music. It is one of the world's most sensual rhythms that fully beautify the Caribbean culture of the people of the Lesser Antilles.

Men and women dance with intertwined bodies – but with free minds – in total harmony. Simple descriptions like this filled magazines and newspapers around the world during the '80s, when "Zouk" fever exploded. A dance full of sensuality, Zouk became an icon of the Caribbean and a synonym for its charm.

The rhythm, whose name is slang for the word "party" in Creole, was born in the late '70s in Guadeloupe, French West Indies, with the debut of the legendary band Kassav, founded by Jacob Desvarieux and the brothers Pierre and Georges Decimus. The idea, supported by renowned musician Freddy Marshall, was to give a more modern guise to carnival music from Martinique and Guadeloupe.

The band released their first album Love and Ka Dance in 1980. However, it was in 1985 that they achieved global recognition, with the hit “Zouk la sé sèl médickaman nou ni,” which means “Zouk is the only medicine we have” in Creole.

In France, Kassav (meaning "cassava," in English) topped music charts several times, with many hits during their 30-album career.

"Love" Version

In addition to sharing the birthplace of Zouk with Guadaloupe, the beautiful island of Martinique is where "Zouk Love" was born – a slower, more melodic and (even) more sensual rhythm. One of the biggest successes came with Jocelyne Béroard, who became one of the leading vocalists of the band Kassav, in 1983. The Martinique native also recorded an album with Philipe Lavil, featuring the famous hit “Kole Séré,” one of the most played songs in the history of Zouk Love.

Over the years, Zouk also contributed to strengthening the image of other Caribbean rhythms around the world, such as Salsa, Merengue and even the Brazilian Lambada, often confused with the Love version of the music from the Antilles.

These various influences and blends with Jamaican Reggae or the Angolan Kuduro led to new styles of Zouk, which for many critics is proof of its cultural richness. Besides the traditional and Love versions, there are other styles: Betón, played in carnival music from Martinique; American R&B, which French purists prefer to call Zouk Nouvelle Génération; and even the newly created Soulzouk, widespread in Brazil.

When walking through the streets of Fort de France, the capital of Martinique, or between small townships in the interior of the island, it is common to hear the native melody in its various forms. Bars and restaurants use it as background music, conveying a compelling sense of joy and seduction.

In the famous nightclubs specializing in this rhythm, such as the Cotton Club or Le Negresco, local dancers mingle with tourists, who have fun while sipping the typical drink Ti Punch, a version of the Brazilian caipirinha, with lime, sugar cane syrup and white rum. There is also a tropical version called a Punch Planteur, with citrus fruits, roots and herbs–a blend that harmonizes perfectly with the infectious swing of the Caribbean.

Where to hear it

  • Fort de France

Le Negresco Rue du Commerce
05 96 61 55 17 10
Le Manhattan 18, rue François Arago
0596 60 46 69
L'Appart 6 rue Papin Dupont
596 596 74 66 77* Le Lamentin

Cotton Club\ CC Verti Acajou
Phone: 05 96547726
Maximus Pont de Californie
Basse Gondeau
596 596 50 16 37 * Les Trois-Ilets

L'Amphore Pointe du Bout