“The French have not had the chance to know the Caribbean culture”, estimates Jocelyne Béroard, the singer of Kassav ‘

Do you know which is the first French group to have blackmailed the Stade de France? In six letters: Kassav’. The musical formation, holder of a Zénith de Paris record, has been making the whole world “zouker” for more than forty years.

Its successful formula? The association of voices and talents, from Guadeloupe and Martinique, those of Pierre-Edouard and George Decimus, Jacob Desvarieux, Jean-Philippe Marthély, Jean-Claude Naimro, Patrick Saint-Eloi and Jocelyne Béroard to sublimate the everything. “The longevity of Kassav’ is this: the pleasure and security that we all experience on stage”, confides the latter in her memoirs entitled Far from bitterpublished on March 17.

At 67, the charismatic singer of the group, who joined this crazy adventure in 1983, talks about her life as a woman and an artist. The first female gold record in the West Indies, she also tells the rich story of the Kassav’ family, of West Indian music since the 1960s and of her love for zouk. 20 minutes met the musical icon, currently starring in the film Zeponto discuss his fights and the future of the famous group, after the death of one of its leaders Jacob Desvarieux, last July.

You received an education in which the French language was privileged. How did you reclaim Creole, which you defend today?

In the West Indies at the time, the French language was essential in the instruction which made it possible to climb the ladder. Learning to play an instrument made it possible to be a little admired. I learned Creole in the yard in a month, when I was 8 years old at the municipal school in 1962. not in Creole. And for some people, it was disrespectful to their parents to speak to them in Creole. We heard Creole words in songs, but we didn’t know them. We didn’t know how to speak it, we didn’t practice it. When I was teenager (adolescent), my mother used to tell me proverbs in Creole, pointing out the beauty of certain sentences. When you speak Creole, you have to know the turns, because there are rules. There are plenty of people who do Gallicisms in Creole [un créole très francisé]. I remain convinced that I must make this mistake from time to time, as I learned alone, so I buy dictionaries and grammar books on Creole.

You have seen Caribbean music evolve. How do you view it?

In the 1950s, there were lots of bands playing in Paris, like Léona Gabriel-Soïme [chanteuse martiniquaise de biguine]Robert Mavounzy or Joby Valente that I had heard sing Record The Striped. When I started doing choirs on stage, it was in what we called balls. Caribbean-Guyanese evenings, a little select, during which people listened to us to dance. Kassav’ decided to stop this obligatory ball story and brought his music on stage. We didn’t want to play only in ballrooms. Today, if many people can do concerts on stage, it was rather initiated by Kassav’.

Are you proud of that?

Ah well yes. When you make music, when people come to your concerts, that’s the best reward for all your efforts. Now, it’s not because the public is there that we won it. The spectators must leave happy. We still have to give, to make efforts not to disappoint the public. It is a perpetual exchange, a perpetual work.

“Kids today who do zouk, they call it pop music, R&B and all sorts of other stuff, while the zouk color is there. So why not give him his name? »

With Kassav’, you evolved in a very masculine environment: how did you impose yourself as a woman?

A: I didn’t ask myself any questions. Two: the sofa promotion is not for me. So, I believe that insofar as I respected myself, I was respected. I did not play the seduction, I wanted to integrate this group. I considered that by being called to do backing vocals in that group, I was part of it. Point bar. Where I was needed, I was there.

Do you think it’s easier for female singers today?

No, because if you don’t know what you want, you can be dependent on boys. I grumbled several times with my female colleagues who were taken in by men. They were creating their own song, their music with the lyrics, and now the guys who were just doing the arranging thought it was their song too. They took 50% instead of 10%. I warned several of them, because it is not done and it annoys me.

You address the class contempt of which zouk has been the victim and also your struggles as a West Indian artist in France. Have attitudes changed?

There is still one thing missing for many people to understand: the West Indies are not totally France. Guadeloupe and Martinique are 8,000 kilometers from France, they do not have the same history. It is not because we are French, that we have learned the French language that we are like the French. And if we know French culture, it’s because it was imposed on us, whereas the French haven’t had the chance to know ours. So they stay on their prejudices, on the exotic side. They knew Kassav’, of course, but the only reference that is still thrown in my face is the duo Kole Sere with Philippe Lavil – who is a friend – as if my career had stopped at this song.

Simply, people haven’t taken the time to look at what others have done in forty years. And it’s sad because that means that they are missing out on a lot of beautiful things, they only knew Zouk la sé sel médikaman nou ni, Syé Bwa and possibly Ou Lé. When we signed with Sony in 1987, we were voted best French group at the Victoires de la Musique. But a few years later, we returned to the “best French-speaking group” or “world music” categories. They refuse to name our music… And the less we name your name, the less you exist. Kids today who do zouk, they call it pop music, R&B and all sorts of other stuff, when the zouk color is there. So why not give him his name?

Is that why each chapter of your book begins with an excerpt from a song by your group or that you have composed for others?

Yes I did it on purpose because people don’t listen to the lyrics of the songs! Nine times out of ten, they miss the message. For example, my track Lanmè Mové is thought to be about big waves because of the French translation of the title which means “the sea was bad”, when in fact it is about war…

What advice would you give to the younger generation?

To believe in her. Not to forget who she is. That following fashion can make you win, but maybe not for long since fashions pass. It is better to have a personality, an originality and above all to love what you do.

How are you and how is the band after the death of Jacob Desvarieux?

The group goes. We are on a sabbatical year. Everyone does lots of things they haven’t had the opportunity to do before. I wrote the book. Jean Claude [Naimro] do something else. George [Decimus] also. Everyone continues to live. The group is supposed to reunite in 2023.

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