Jacob Desvarieux, Guitarist Who Forged Zouk Style, Dies at 65


Jacob F. Desvarieux was born in Paris on Nov. 21, 1955, but he soon moved to Guadeloupe, where his mother, Cécile Desvarieux, was born; she raised him as a single parent and did domestic work. They lived in Guadeloupe and Martinique, in Paris and, for two years, in Senegal.

When Jacob was 10, he asked his mother for a bicycle; she gave him a guitar instead, considering it less dangerous.

After returning to France, he joined rock bands in the 1970s, playing songs from Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix, and worked as a studio guitarist. His own music increasingly looked to Caribbean and African styles, including compas from Haiti, Congolese soukous from what was then Zaire, rumba from Cuba, highlife from Ghana and makossa from Cameroon.

One of his bands in the 1970s, Zulu Gang, included musicians from Cameroon. Mr. Desvarieux also worked with the Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango, who had the international hit “Soul Makossa.”

In 1979, in Paris, Mr. Desvarieux met Pierre-Édouard Décimus, a musician from Guadeloupe with an ambitious concept for a new band: strongly rooted in the West Indies but reaching outward. “We were looking to find a soundtrack that synthesized all the traditions and previous sounds, but that could be exported everywhere,” Mr. Desvarieux told Libération.

Kassav’ was named after a Gaudeloupean dish, a cassava-flour pancake, and also after ka, a drum. A zouk was a dance party, and a 1984 hit by Mr. Desvarieux, “Zouk-La-Se Sel Medikaman Nou Ni” (“Zouk Is the Only Medicine We Have”), made the word zouk synonymous with the band’s style.


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