Malavoi was at the foundation of Martinique’s music for over thirty years. In their early years, the sound of the group was much different than at the end of its career, but with their 1981 album “La Belle Epoque” Malavoi struck gold and introduced a unique sound that has been followed by numerous artists who went on to successful solo careers (Dedé Saint-Prix, Edith Lefel, Ralph Thamar).
At the time Malavoi was formed, a musical revolution was brewing in Martinique. Malavoi led a movement that was to set the stage for the Zouk explosion in the 1980s. They were eager to develop their music and add modern elements to it while maintaining strong connections to its roots. Their creativity was fueled by the work of other young artists who sought to reestablish Martinique as a source for great music. Eddy Louis, Fal Frett, and La Perfecta were other great up-and-coming groups from this time period.
Malavoi was not actually a Zouk band, in the sense that their music was much more rooted in the classic sounds of the past rather than their super-synthesized counterparts Kassav’. Malavoi’s sound was unique , however, since it focused on the use of the violin coupled with bouncing percussion. Malavoi’s sound came from the same legacy of Cuban charanga, which also utilizes violins and flutes over rootsy African-influenced percussion. Both styles spring from the union of turn-of-the century- European ballroom music with African percussion and rhythms. In both Cuba and Martinique, French waltzes, Spanish pasodobles and other sublime couple-dancing styles were all the rage in the late-1800s and early 1900s. It was only natural that local musicians would try to imitate the music of the elites, while interpreting the sounds in their own ways and inventing something entirely new.
At the time Malavoi was made of neighborhood pals rather than professionals who had fun playing music together. They created a band with four violins (classical), traditional rhythmic instruments and of course a piano. They enjoyed playing traditional music and entertaining audiences throughout the island. Their music was appreciated and there was popular demand for it.
In 1978 they reached a new level of professionalism and popular acceptance. Under the direction of Paul Rosine, the band’s pianist author and composer, they took a new orientation. They stopped playing at dances and worked on their original ideas.
“Shé Shé” was an important album in Malavoi’s career. In the years leading up to its release their projects had become watered-down. The death and departure of some of the groups key members, including founders Emmanuel Césaire and Paulo Rosine, had resulted in a lack of focus and their musical style seemed to have lost its direction. They had lost many of their fans and music critics found their style to be less aggressive and revolutionary than before. A new style called “zouk love” was sweeping the islands, and Malavoi desperately tried to keep up. Indeed, the whole future of Malavoi as a powerhouse of Caribbean music was in doubt.
“Shé Shé” is an album that tells a story. The title is a Creole adaptation of the French word “chercher” which in English means “searching.” Each song relates to the others, and the characters remain consistent throughout. It is a magical realist tale that reflects the dreamlike approach to the life led by the people of Martinique. Theirs is a world where the boundaries of fantasy and reality are less clear. Spirits coexist with the people on the island and events constantly occur that seem magical and surreal.
The tale of the album takes place in the dream of an elderly woman named Simeline who lives in a hillside neighborhood called “The Destined Place.” After finishing her morning chores, Simeline leans back in her rocking chair and begins to dream. She sees the bustling daily life of her fellow Martinicans. “Martinique’s a land where everyone loves music,” she thinks in her dream, “Life without music would be empty…Life is a hymn in a story.”
Simeline dreams on, remembering her youth when she was in love with a bus driver named Bolio who would eventually father her son Roger (nicknamed Roro) and her daughter Anasthasia. Roro is troubled and questions his past and his future, wondering where he would be today if he had made different choices. He is searching for meaning, direction, and identity…the main theme of the album.
The album tells stories of love, exile, and the loss of a culture as people move from the island to seek opportunities elsewhere. In the end, Roro’s granddaughter, Cassandra, who was born and raised in Paris decides to return to her homeland. She discovers a land of magic and beauty and in the process discovers herself.
It is a wonderful and complex story. Yet the music is so beautiful, you probably won’t even notice it. “Shé Shé”is the rarest of albums, one with a conscience and a message, a great work of art that also happens to be a great time. The ultimate assertion of the album is to forget your troubles, be true to yourself and eat, drink, and enjoy life.
Malavoi toured the US on a number of occasions, playing at S.O.B’s in New York and Central Park Summerstage as well as at festivals in New Orleans and Canada. Unlike their counterparts Kassav’, however, they remained relatively unknown in the United States.
Mano” Cesaire Et La Formation “Malavoi” (Célini Disques, 1969)
Lianes (Hit Parade, 1974)
Malavoi (Disques Vacances, 1977)
Malavoi (Disques Vacances, 1978)
Malavoi (Déclic Communication, 1982)
Malavoi (Déclic Communication, 1983)
Malavoi (Debs, 1984)
Malavoi (Déclic Communication, 1985)
La Case A Lucie (Blue Silver, 1986)
La Filo (Déclic Communication, 1986)
Au Zenith (Bleu Caraïbes, 1987)
Jou Ouvé (Flarenasch, 1988)
Souch‘ (MBS, 1989)
Matebis (Déclic Communication, 1992)
La Belle Epoque (Hibiscus Records, 1992)
Matebis En Concert (Déclic Communication, 1993)
Malavoi (Déclic Communication, 1993)
An Maniman (Déclic Communication, 1994)
Shè Shé (Déclic Communication, 1996)
Marronnage (Déclic Communication, 1998)
Madjoumbé (3A Production, 1998)
Fléch Kann (Globe Style, 1999)
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.