Jacob, Jocelyne, Kassav' is often credited for having invented zouk. What does that term represent to you guys?
Jacob Desvarieux (vocals & guitar): "First and foremost zouk is music from the French Antilles, from Martinique and Guadeloupe; a genre which has succeeded in being embraced by the rest of the French speaking world as well. I know there are those who insist it's nothing more than a derivative of Haitian compas, but I firmly believe that with Kassav' we've proven them wrong."
That being said, the term "zouk" was already around well before the music genre was introduced.
Jacob Desvarieux: "Oh yes, absolutely! It was a creole word used to describe surprise parties or secret dances. What happened is that at one point almost all of the music that was played at these dances were either Kassav' tunes or song from one or the other band that was emulating what we were doing. After a while people simply started referring to the music as zouk."
Where did the idea to start a band like Kassav' come from?
Jacob Desvarieux: "Before I joined Kassav' I was just playing rock music, but when I met Pierre Eduard Decimus and he already had the whole project in his head. In the beginning it wasn't our intention just to stand a band… At that time the French Antilles saw a movement of national consciousness. Above all Pierre Eduard wanted to create a new genre of music that would be typically Antillean and in which Antilleans could recognize themselves, but at the same time could also appeal to the rest of the world. We even thought long and hard about the name of the band, because we wanted something that sounded catchy, but would also be undeniably Antillean. At that time Antillean bands had names like Les Vikings or Les Gentlemen, and to us that had nothing to do with the Antillean identity we wanted to propagate."
Kassav' is a band with members from both Guadeloupe and Martinique.
Jacob Desvarieux: "In the beginning the line-up of the band was completely made up of Guadeloupians, but we really wanted to represent the entirety of the French Antilles as the culture on the two islands, separated by a 300 kilometer stretch of sea, is so similar. We were the first example of a band with members from both islands and I believe we still are to this day."
Jocelyne Berouard (vocals): "I can still vividly remember the moment when I first heard the music of Kassav'. I was at my father's house in Martinique and I immediately turned towards the radio. It felt like being struck by a bolt of lightning and it was at that exact moment that I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I was lucky enough to have been invited to participate on their second album ('Lagé Moin', FM Productions, 1980, red.) on which I'm only featured as a backing vocalist. After that we parted ways again only to join forces again in 1983. The fact they were all Guadeloupians never bothered me, because at that moment in time I was studying in Paris and that felt as far removed from Martinique as it did from Guadeloupe. My parents have always been the travelling kind and I kind of inherited that spirit; in any case I've never had what you could call an insular mentality."
Even though many of your songs carry messages, a lot of your fans won't grasp their meaning as you guys have never strayed from singing in Creole.
Jacob Desvarieux: "Listen, I don't think anyone has ever criticized the Rolling Stones for singing in English; we're Antilleans, so we sing in Creole! (laughs) It's our mother tongue and that's always the language you feel closest to and most comfortable with. When expressing your true emotions, you'll always revert to using your native tongue."
Jocelyne Berouard: "We succeeded in becoming a band that's known around the world whilst singing in in Creole, so why would we change the formula? On the contrary, I firmly believe it's the ideal way to introduce people to Antillean tradition and culture! For me a culture always goes hand in hand with a language and like Jacob said, our native tongue is Creole. It's also much easier for us to express ourselves when writing in Creole. On top of that I don't think French and Creole sound in any way alike. In any case, for the members of Kassav' it is an essential part of our identity. When the Antilleans, who became our first fanbase, felt we were the real thing, they immediately embraced us and our music. But it goes much further then that… We've been thanked many a time by people studying Creole, because the popularity of our music helped them to impose Creole as a respectable language that merits studying."
The history of Kassav' now spans four decades, but in all that time the line-up of the band hasn't changed.
Jocelyne Berouard: "First and foremost I have to tell you I'm no fan of bands that keep touring whilst there are only a few original members left. The fact the line-up of Kassav' has remained intact throughout the years is because we quickly understood that what we could offer together far outreached what we could accomplish as individuals. As a musician once you've grasped that, you don't want to lose precious time with petty arguments. And, of course, even after all these years, we still love the music we play; that also plays a major role."
One founding member sadly isn't there anymore. How do you guys remember Patrick Saint Eloi?
Jacob Desvarieux: "Patrick shared the stage with me for over twenty years, so he became like a brother to me. After his passing, we didn't even contemplate replacing him. A band is not like a football team, the interaction between the different musicians is very subtle and personal, so we decided to soldier on as best we could without him."
Jocelyne Berouard: "Patrick was someone very sensitive and discrete; a dreamer and a very creative individual as well. He wrote some excellent lyrics and every time I hear them again, I still discover something new. He's left a beautiful legacy and I can't but admit that we miss him dearly."
With 'Sonjé' you guys dedicated an entire album to his memory. The title track of the album talks about him. Is that a track you guys also play live and, if so, don't things get too emotional?
Jacob Desvarieux: "We do play that song and other songs from that album live, yes, and it gets emotional every single time. But we tend to seek out the right audience, because playing these songs to people who don't even know who Patrick was makes no sense."
Jocelyne, apart from music, one of your other passions is photography. What does photography offer you that you wouldn't necessarily find in music?
Jocelyne Berouard: "Before I decided to go into the music business, I always wanted to become a painter, but painting when you're constantly on the move because you're touring with a band is of course far from ideal. At the same time I'd already been taking photos since the age of twelve. I even was a member of an actual amateur photo club for a while. Let's just say that I've always been an artiste with many different passions. The emotion I get from photography is almost as strong as the one I get from singing, because there are photos that sooth or calm you, others that might be disturbing in nature and still others the make one dream, and music is exactly the same. I think that in order to really be able to appreciate art one needs to be sufficiently open-minded, loving and simple."