In the Biguine-ing

Tumbélé: Biguine, Afro and Latin Sounds from the French Caribbean, 1963-1974
Tumbélé: Biguine, Afro and Latin Sounds from the French Caribbean, 1963-1974 (Soundway SNDWCD017P, 2009)

While the slickly produced sounds of zouk became wildly popular in the ‘80s thanks largely to the band Kassav the deeper roots of French Caribbean music haven’t reached nearly as far beyond their point of origin. The islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique (along with other locales in the so-called Lesser Antilles) may remain departments of France, but they’ve been a musical and cultural melting pot for decades.

African rhythms with origins in the slavery era mixed not only with French colonial sounds but also with other influences from both near and far, and Tumbélé: Biguine, Afro and Latin Sounds from the French Caribbean goes a long way toward providing an earful of how delightfully diverse the music of the region was in the 1960s and ‘70s. Leadoff track “Jeunesse Vauclin” by Barel Coppet et Mister Lof jumps immediately into a skittering clarinet romp that makes Paris and Martinique neighbors as cheekily cadenced vocals keep pace.

The call-and-response structure of Abel Zenon’s “Pas O Soue La” lays into a recurring African groove also bolstered by Les Kings’ bomba spinoff “Oriza,” a percolating “Dima Bolane” from Congolese band Le Ry-co Jazz’s 1967-71 period spent experimenting musically in Guadeloupe and Martinique, and “Ti Fi La Ou Te Madam” by Anzala, Dolor & Velo, an example of the percussion-heavy gwo ka style.

A distinct Latin spice fires Raphael Zachille’s Puerto Rican plena workout, the thunderous timbale fills that jolt the otherwise-biguine selection by L’Orchestre Jeunesse and a piece courtesy of L’Ensemble Abricot that would sound perfectly at home on a Latin jazz disc. Further listening brings more revelations: how very deeply Haitian compas impacted the tumbele style; the way extended arrangements elaborated on the music’s folkloric roots without forsaking them; the subtleties and nuances opened up by improved recording facilities and so on. 74 minutes in length and with absorbing liner notes that deepen appreciation of the marvelous music even more, there’s an abundance of enjoyment here that’s worth visiting repeatedly.

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Author: Tom Orr

Tom Orr is a California-based writer whose talent and mental stability are of an equally questionable nature. His hobbies include ignoring trends, striking dramatic poses in front of his ever-tolerant wife and watching helplessly as his kids surpass him in all desirable traits.


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