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Music of Martinique and Guadeloupe

The former French colonies of Martinique and Guadeloupe are small islands in the Caribbean. Despite their small size, Martinique especially has had a profound influence on the music of the Caribbean basin and the world as a whole.

Table of contents
1 Biguine
2 Chouval bwa
3 Gwo ka
4 Kadans
5 Zouk


Biguine is a Martinican form of clarinet and trombone music which can be divided into two distinct types: Evolving out of string band music, biguine spread to mainland France in the 1920s. Early stars like Alexandre Stellio and Sam Castandet became popular. Its popularity abroad died relatively quickly, but it lasted as a major force in popular music on Martinique until Haitian compas took over in the 1950s and mini-jazz artists like Les Gentlemen and Les Vikings de Guadeloupe became popular in the late 1960s.. In the later part of the 20th century, biguine musicians like clarinet virtuoso Michel Godzom helped revolutionize the genre. Biguine moderne, a pop form, has maintained some pop success in Martinique, especially artists like Kali, who fuse the genre with reggae.

Chouval bwa

Chouval bwa features percussion, bamboo flute, accordion and wax-paper/comb-type kazoo. The music originated among rural Martinicans. Since its development, chouval bwa has diversifed into genres like zouk chouv, which includes electric instrumentation and has been popularized by Claude Germany, Tumpak, Dede Saint-Prix and Pakatak.

Gwo ka

Gwo ka is a family of hand drums used to create a form of folk music from Guadeloupe. There are seven basic rhythms in gwo ka, and multiple variations on each. Different sizes of drums establish the foundation and its flourishes. Rural Guadeloupans still use gwo ka drums in communal experiences called lewozes, while a more modernized version called gwo ka moderne add new instruments ranging from djembe drums to electric bass guitar. Gwo ka moderne artists include Pakala Percussion and Pukoutan'n, alongside more pop-influenced musicians like Marcel Magnat and Ti Celeste, while Gerard Hubert and others have fused gwo ka with zouk.

Gwo ka is often accompanied it by another type of percussion instrument called twi ba as well as vocal elements.


In the 1970s, a wave of Haitian immigrants to Martinique brought with them the kadans, a sophisticated form of music that quickly swept the island and helped united all the former French colonies of the Caribbean by combining their cultural influences. These Haitians drew upon previous success from mini-jazz artists like Les Gentlemen, Les Leopards and Les Vikings de Guadeloupe.


Kadans dominated Martinican music until the mid-1980s, when zouk appeared as a combination of Indian, European, African and Americann musics. The band Kassav remain perhaps the best known zouk group. Kassav drew in influences from balakadri and bal granmoun dances, biguines and mazurkas, along with more contemporary Caribbean influences like reggae and salsa music. Zouk live shows soon began to draw on American and European rock and heavy metal traditions, and the genre spread across the world, primarily in developing countries.