PARIS (AFP) – Jacob Desvarieux, the Guadeloupe co-founder of the Caribbean group Kassav ‘who achieved worldwide fame in the 1980s by creating the fast zouk style of music, has died of the aftermath of Covid-19.
Local media in the French territory of Guadeloupe announced his death at the age of 65 on Friday evening (July 30), causing a wave of grief.
“The West Indies, Africa and music have just lost one of their greatest ambassadors,” Senegalese music star Youssou N’Dour tweeted.
“Jacob, thanks to your art, you have brought the West Indies and Africa closer together. Dakar, where you once lived, mourns you. Goodbye My friend.
In poor health after undergoing a kidney transplant, the singer and guitarist was taken to hospital in Pointe-à-Pitre, the largest city in Guadeloupe, on July 12 after catching Covid-19.
“A giant of zouk music. An outstanding guitarist. An emblematic voice of the West Indies. Jacob Desvarieux was all of these at the same time,” tweeted French President Emmanuel Macron.
Desvarieux told the French daily Liberation in 2016 that his group Kassav ‘had started in Paris on an experimental basis.
“We wanted to find a soundtrack that would combine all of the previous (Caribbean) traditions and sounds, but that would be exportable everywhere,” he said.
This is how zouk was born, becoming known worldwide, especially in France and on the African continent where people celebrated at their festive pace.
“We questioned our origins through our music,” Desvarieux told Liberation. “What were we doing here, we who were black and spoke French?
Kassav ‘rose to prominence with the growing popularity of world music in the 1980s.
From the imagination of Guadeloupe artists Pierre-Edouard Decimus and Freddy Marshall, the group was founded in 1979 with Desvarieux, born in Paris and influenced by guitarists Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix.
The basic style of the group is gwo ka, a kind of Guadeloupe drum music, embellished with ingredients from all over the Caribbean and a modern touch.
Kassav’s debut album was released in 1979 and the band reached their peak in the late 1980s.
He signed a contract with multinational label CBS and was hailed by jazz legend Miles Davis.
Since then, the popularity of zouk music has waned, but Kassav ‘continues to draw crowds to his concerts.