Episode 39: How musicians from the tiny islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique invented the Zouk music that led to a dance craze in the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, and Asia in the ’80s. The story of Kassav’ as told by Jocelyne Béroard

When Jocelyne Béroard realized that there were not enough people in her native Caribbean island of Martinique to sustain her ambition to be a musical superstar, she decided to join hands with others and conquer the world.

Jocelyne Béroard performing with Kassav’ in 2016. Photo by Kmeron under Creative Commons license.

The singer and songwriter joined hands with artists from neighboring Guadeloupe to form Kassav’, the seminal group that created the popular Zouk style of music, which fueled a dance craze that spread from the islands to the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia.  

Béroard was born in Fort-De-France, Martinique, and studied in France at the National School of Fine Arts in Paris. After her studies, she began working as a background singer for Caribbean groups. In 1984, she became the lead singer of Kassav. As the lead singer for the 15-piece band, Béroard was instrumental in laying the foundations of zouk, a style that blends Antillean, African, and European music and dance. 

Together with the group, Béroard has worked with numerous renown artists and producers, including Youssou Ndour, Alpha Blondy, Awilo Longomba, and Tracy Chapman. She has also had a very successful solo career with three albums. She won a Gold Disc award for her 1986 album Siwo, which is the all-time bestseller by a female artist in the West Indies. Currently, the COVID-19 pandemic has gotten her locked down in Martinique, but she’s spending the time working on her fourth solo project.

Jocelyne Béroard collaborated with Awilo Longomba in what’s arguably Africa’s dance anthem, Coupe Bibamba.