Music of Martinique

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Musical genres, styles, eras and events

Music of Martinique and Guadeloupe: Topics
Biguine Mini-jazz
Chouval bwa Gwo ka
Kadans Zouk
Timeline and Samples
Francophone Caribbean
Guadeloupe - Martinique - Haiti - Louisiana
Other islands
Anguilla - Antigua and Barbuda - Aruba and the Dutch Antilles - Bahamas - Barbados - Bermuda - Cayman Islands - Cuba - Grenada - Jamaica - Dominica - Dominican Republic - Montserrat - Puerto Rico - St Kitts and Nevis - Saint Lucia - St Vincent and the Grenadines - Trinidad and Tobago - Turks and Caicos - Virgin Islands

The former French colony of Martinique is a small island in the Caribbean. Its musical heritage is intertwined with that of its sister island, Guadeloupe. Despite their small size, the islands have created a large popular music industry, which gained in international renown after the success of zouk music in the later 20th century. Zouk's popularity was particularly intense in France, where the genre became an important symbol of identity for Martinique and Guadeloupe . Zouk's origins are in the folk music of Martinique and Guadeloupe, especially Martinican chouval bwa and Guadeloupan gwo ka, and the pan-Caribbean calypso tradition.


French Antillean Carnival in Paris
French Antillean Carnival in Paris

Carnival is a very important festival, known as Vaval on Martinique. Music plays a vital role, with Martinican big bands marching across the island. Vaval declined following World War II, bouncing back with new band formats and new traditions only in the 1980s. Like Guadeloupe, Martinique features participatory, call-and-response style songs during its Vaval celebrations.

In the early 20th century on Martinique, Creole bands travelled on trucks or small carts during Vaval, playing a music known as biguine vidé (or just videé). After the decline of Vaval in World War 2, the tradition began anew in the 1980s, when large marching bands of fifty or more people became common, including a number of horn players, percussionists and dancers. These large bands, known as groups à pied, are each identified with a neighbourhood. Biguine vidé is participatory music, with the bandleader singing a verse and the audience responding. Modern instrumentation includes a variety of improvised drums made from containers of all kinds, plastic plumbing, bells, tanbou débonda, chacha, tibwa and gwoka drums. Aside from the biguine vidé bands, Vaval includes song and costume contests, masquerading and zouk parties .

Chouval bwa

Chouval bwa is a kind of Martinican traditional music, featuring percussion, bamboo flute, accordion, and wax-paper/comb-type kazoo. The music originated among rural Martinicans, as a form of celebratory holiday music played to accompany a dance called the manege (which translates as merry-go-round; chouval bwa is a Creole version of cheval bois, which refers to the wooden horses seen on merry-go-rounds). Chouval bwa percussion is played by a drummer on the tanbour drum and the ti bwa, a percussion instrument made out of a piece of bamboo laid horizontally and beaten with sticks; the most traditional ensembles also use accordions, chacha (a rattle) and the bel-air, a bass version of the tanbour .

Popular music

Though Martinique and Guadeloupe are most frequently known only for the internationally-renowned zouk style, the islands have also produced popular musicians in various updated styles of traditional biguine, chouval bwa and gwo ka. The world-famous zouk band Kassav' remains easily the most famous performers from the island. Chouval bwa has diversifed into pop genres like zouk chouv, which includes electric instrumentation and has been popularized by Claude Germany, Tumpak, Dede Saint-Prix, and Pakatak. Germany is the most traditionally-styled of the popular zouk chouv performers, while Marce Pago of Tumpak is particularly influential, and is also known for coining the term zouk chouv in 1987 .


Biguine is a Martinican form of clarinet and trombone music which can be divided into two distinct types:

  • bidgin bélè or drum biguine - originates in slave bélè dances and characterized by the use of bélè drums and tibwa rhythm sticks, along with call and response, nasal vocals and improvised instrumental solos; has its roots in West African ritual dances, though ceremonial components do not survive in Haitian biguine.
  • orchestrated biguine - originates in Saint-Pierre in the 18th century, highly influenced by French music though vocals are usually in creole.

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.


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 unite 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.


Zouk arose in the mid-1980s, a combination of European, African and Indian musics. Elements of gwo ka, tambour, ti bwa and biguine vidé are prominent in zouk. Though there are many diverse styles of zouk, some commonalities exist. The French Creole tongue of Martinique and Guadeloupe is an important element, and are a distinctive part of the music. Generally, zouk is based around star singers, with little attention given to instrumentalists, and is based almost entirely around studio recordings .

The band Kassav' remain 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.

  • Kassav' "Zouk La Sé Sèl Médikaman Nou Ni" —
    • A major zouk hit by Kassav'
Lesser Antillean music

Anguilla - Antigua and Barbuda - Aruba and the Netherlands Antilles - Barbados - Dominica - Grenada
Guadeloupe - Martinique - Montserrat - Saint Kitts and Nevis - Saint Lucia - Saint Vincent and the Grenadines - Trinidad and Tobago - Virgin Islands

Music Festivals

Two large, international music festivals have further bolstered Martinique's music scene. Jazz à la Martinique and Carrefour Mondial de Guitare alternate years. The country's best jazz musicians are featured during Jazz à la Martinique, but major worldwide players like Branford Marsalis also perfom. Honoring the guitar, Carrefour Mondial de Guitare celebrates a wide range of guitar genres, including flamenco, blues, jazz, rock, and pop. Both festivals last approximately a week, with concerts in various locations throughout Martinique.

Retrieved from ""