Various Artists: Tumbélé!: Biguine, Afro & Latin Sounds from the French Caribbean, 1963-74

This excellent compilation provides a passport to a unique time and place, providing a useful insight into a relatively unknown musical world.

Various Artists

Tumbélé!: Biguine, Afro & Latin Sounds from the French Caribbean, 1963-74

Label: Soundway
US Release Date: 2009-10-13
UK Release Date: 2009-10-05
Label Website

Tumbélé! is another inspiring release from the UK-based Soundway label, which has been busy populating the world music marketplace with compilations of obscure gems from Ghana, Nigeria, Colombia, and Panama. This album focuses on the Francophone Caribbean, specifically the Antillean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. This area would become well known in the 1980s for the highly popular zouk music, which brought together Haitian compas, Martinican biguine, Guadeloupian go-kwa, European music, and Anglo-American pop. Tumbélé! captures the formation of this hybrid style in the pre-zouk years, when Latin American, European, and African styles were combined to produce dance music of an equally infectious quality.

The bulk of the recordings come from the archives of Martinican Hit Parade label and the Guadeloupian Disque Debs and Aux Ondes labels. These labels allowed for the recording and dissemination of a great wealth of local music, making this a golden period for the recording of Antillean music. The booklet accompanying Tumbélé! is a joy, containing informative notes by Hugo Mendez alongside photos, posters, and, best of all, reproductions of the original record sleeves. These faded time capsules are miniature masterpieces of tropical design, providing iconic invitations to another, impossibly exotic time and place.

Barel Coppet and Mister Lof, stars of the greatest (or kitschiest -- take your pick) record sleeve of the collection, get the history lesson underway with "Jeunesse Vauclin", a gloriously catchy example of biguine from 1972. The 88-year-old Coppet, Mendez informs us, "has more or less retired from the music business, though he plays occasionally in Martinique and still teaches clarinet." Unfortunately, Coppet has since died; his passing in late October 2009 was noted in the Caribbean and French press, with honors coming from Frédéric Mitterand, among others. "Jeunesse Vauclin" serves as a fitting memorial and as an invitation to seek out more recordings by this wonderful musician.

In addition to the local talent represented here, there are also recordings by groups from elsewhere who were either resident in the islands or at least stopped off long enough to lay down some tracks. One example is Les Loups Noirs D'Haïti, a Haitian band who recorded in Martinique. Their self-titled 1972 album yielded the seriously out-there "biguinedelica" of "Jet Biguine", which Mendez accurately describes as "a mixture of biguine drums, distorted guitar, crazed Haitain organ and crashing sound effects that build and build". The sound effects are actually a simulation of the jet in the song's title, but the gimmick is hardly necessary; the track has absolutely no problems taking off from its own musical propulsion.

Anzala, Dolor & Vélo provide one of the many highs of this compilation with their utterly compelling take on the gwo-ka rhythm, "Ti Fi La Ou Té Madam'". Future zouk star Albert Nadeau leads the wonderful tumbélé group Les Léopards on their 1973 local hit single "D'Leau Coco". It's a masterclass of Guadeloupian rhythms overlaid with funky organ and swinging sax.

Nadeau was instrumental in bringing the Congolese band Le Ryco-Jazz to Martinique. During their four-year stay in Martinique and Guadeloupe, the band recorded a number of songs for local labels. They are represented here by "Dima Bolane", a track written by the Congo-based Cameroonian saxophone legend Manu Dibango for Joseph "Grand Kalle" Kabasele. Le Ryco-Jazz infuse their version with tumbélé rhythm, also finding space for a fabulous percussion workout courtesy of Martinican Marie-Jo Prajet.

The collection closes with the otherworldly sounds of Robert Loison's "Jean Fouillé, Pie Fouillé", a skeletal traditional lyric interspersed with ghostly whistle and a light jazz accompaniment of horns and piano, all delivered over rustling gwo-ka percussion. The combination evokes a place of otherness, a magical space set aside for the purpose of ritual and trance. We could be in any number of places: Africa, the Caribbean, the swamps of Louisiana, the "old weird America" of Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music (especially the eerie piping of Henry Thomas's closing track), or a misty, Pan-haunted mountain in the old weird Europe. There is a widely recognized liminality being hymned here, a recognition of music's power in summoning sites of ritual.

Such observations speak to the varied routes of musical practices that allow for the coming and going of sounds between the Caribbean, Africa and Europe (what Paul Gilroy refers to as "the Black Atlantic"), but they shouldn't blind us to the particularity of this music. This excellent compilation provides a passport to a unique time and place, providing a useful insight into a relatively unknown musical world.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.