various artists,
French Caribbean
(Putumayo, 2003)

If you do not have the money for a refreshing vacation in the French Caribbean, perhaps you can let Putumayo take you on a more affordable "musical cruise" of the islands Martinique, Haiti and Guadeloupe. This collection offers 10 tracks covering genres such as zouk (Creole for "party"), compas, twoubadou, biguine, bele', danmye' and gwoka. You might not be able to tell the difference if quizzed, but I bet they all grab your soul just the same.

Martinique's Taxikreol starts the CD off with "Mandolin." The tune is upbeat despite lyrics that describe an unhealthy social climate. The band's name is formed from two words -- essentially, the band has been like a "taxi," picking up the various sounds of the Caribbean, and blending them into a distinctive "kreol" sauce.

The best instrumental from this collection is easily "Parfum des Iles" performed by Kali (a.k.a. Jean-Marc Monnerville), also from Martinique. The style is biguine, which has roots back to the 1920s. The sound has a definite connection to early swing and jazz. I can practically hear a New Orleans connection here (but this could very well be my imagination). There is an old, yet timeless feel to this track.

I was immediately grabbed by Haitian band Carimi's "Ayiti (Bang Bang)." This track could be released on pop radio. Again, the lyrics contradict the happy, joyful sound of the music. With references to a Belgian comic-book character, the singer states, "My country has turned into a cowboy movie / Bang Bang, Lucky Luke / My country's not a game / Stop playing with it."

Other artists and their songs include Ralph Thamar, "Mi Se La" (Martinique); Michel Martelly with Haiti Twoubadou, "Pa Manyen Fanm Nan" (Haiti); Haiti Twoubadou, "Ki Demon Sa-a" (Haiti); Jean-Luc Alger, "Man Biswenw" (Martinique); Emeline Michel, "Moso Manman" (Haiti); Zin, "Kanpe Sou Yon Bit" (Haiti); and Kassav, "Re'te' (live version)" (Guadeloupe). Let me note that the listing on the back of the CD cover does not match the listing in the liner notes, so if I misrepresented any artist or song, it was unintentional.

Putumayo continues its tradition of producing quality compilations. The music is lively even if the lyrics often are not. As I do not speak Creole, the vocals are simply another instrument. The French Caribbean groove is infectious regardless of its sub-genre. The only thing that might improve the listening experience would be to hear this CD on that vacation I mentioned earlier.

- Rambles
written by Wil Owen
published 15 November 2003

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