Zouk or Zouk béton is a fast tempo carnival style of rhythmic music originating from the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique, popularized by the group Kassav in the 80s.

Zouk arose in the early to mid-1980s from kadans. Elements of gwo ka, tambour, ti bwa and biguine vidé are prominent in zouk. The French Creole tongue of Martinique and Guadeloupe is an important element, and are a distinctive part of the music.

In Africa, it gained popularity in francophone and lusophone countries. In Europe, it was particularly popular in France and in North America in the Canadian province of Quebec.


The word Zouk means "party" or "festival" in the local Antillean Creole of French, although the word originally referred to, and is still used to refer to, a popular dance, based on the Polish dance, the mazurka (mazouk), that was introduced to the French Caribbean in the 19th Century. Actually the Creole word zouke, sekwe, zouke, etc. from the French verb "secouer" meaning "shake intensely and repeatedly" was used by Haitian artists who toured the French Antilles during the 80s.


Guadeloupeans Jacob Desvarieux and the brothers Decimus are widely credited for having created the zouk phenomenon in the high-tech recording studios of Paris in the 1980s. In 1978, Pierre Edouard Decimus relocated in Paris after a successful career in the French Antilles. Pierre Edouard Decimus was on the verge of retirement from the music business until he and his brother Georges Decimus met fellow Guadeloupean Jacob Desvarieux, a popular guitarist/songwriter kwown in Paris as a studio wizard. The surroundings of the Paris music recording technology gave him the idea of making "just one more record". Subsequently, Pierre Edouard Decimus, his brother, and Jacob Desvarieux pulled together a team of Paris-based Antilles musicians and created a group named Kassav' and a new sound called zouk. The original Kassav' was all Guadeloupean but was later joined by Martiniquans Jean-Claude Naimro, Claude Vamur, Jean-Phillipe Marthely and Patrick St-Eloi. Kassav' created its own style by introducing an eleven-piece gwo ka unit and two lead singers, tambour, ti bwa, biguine, cadence-lypso: calypso and mostly cadence or compas with full use of the MIDI technology. Originally, Kassav' style had a certain political dimension. Their famous song "zouk-la se sel medikaman nou ni" implied that zouk constituted a banner for the cultural unity of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

In Jocelyn Guilbault’s seminal book on the subject, “Zouk: World Music in the West Indies,” she states that “Zouk is the creation of black, Creole-speaking Antillean artists,” and puts forth the theory that it is the product of the struggle to form some kind of national identity among the four islands, Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, and St. Lucia. All four share a similar colonial past, having been under both French and English rule at various points in their history, and are populated predominantly by blacks, who are the descendants of African slaves.

Music authors Charles De Ledesma and Gene Scaramuzzo trace zouk's development to the Guadeloupean gwo ka and Martinican bèlè (tambour and ti bwa) folk traditions. Ethnomusicologist Jocelyn Guilbault, however, describes zouk as a synthesis of Caribbean popular styles, especially Dominica cadence-lypso, Haitian cadence, Guadeloupean biguine. Zouk arose in the late 1970s and early 1980s, using elements of previous styles of Antillean music, as well as imported genres.


The leading band to emerge from this period was Kassav', who came from Guadeloupe and Martinique with a music repertoire of 85% compas music. They gave the style a pan-Caribbean sound by taking elements from compas, reggae, and salsa music, and became one of the most famous bands of the genre in the world. Kassav' was formed in 1979 by Pierre-Edouard Décimus, a long-time professional musician who worked with Freddy Marshall. Together, the two of them decided to take carnival music and make it a more modern and polished style. Their first album, Love and Ka Dance (1980), established the sound of zouk. They continued to grow more popular, both as a group and with several members' solo careers, finally peaking in 1984 with Yélélé, which featured the international hit "Zouk-la-sé Sel Médikaman Nou Ni". With this hit, zouk rapidly became the most widespread dance craze to hit Latin American in some time, and was wildly popular even as far afield as Europe and Asia. With Kassav's popularity, Zouk became the most widespread dance to hit the Caribbean, Europe, and Africa. Zouk became known for wildly theatrical concerts featuring special effects spectacles, colorful costumes and outrageous antics.

Zouk music has thrilled and inspired millions of fans from around the world. The global influence of the genre is even more remarkable considering its roots. The islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique together cover barely 1,000 square miles, and each is inhabited by just 400,000 residents. Zouk music is steeped in the complex history of the islands, one of unsurpassed beauty, colonization, political turmoil, and the abundant fusion of bits and pieces of African, European, and Caribbean cultures. Naturally, zouk itself is the product of a combination of musical influences.

The influence of zouk has been felt in Brazilian lambada and other Caribbean styles like bouyon, soca and combined rhythm, as well as African styles such as soukous, Zouglou, Coupe-Decale, and Gumbe.


Zouk beton and mostly meringue-compas or cadence are the popular music of the French Antilles of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

Zouk béton

Zouk béton is the original zouk, a fast tempo carnival style popularized by the superb group Kassav in the 1980s. Kassav, the originator of the zouk, remain the best French Antillean group. The band mixed gwo ka, tambour, ti bwa, biguine, African, cadence-lypso: calypso and mostly cadence or compas with full use of the MIDI technology. The style lost ground in the 80s due to the strong presence of compas music, the main music of the French Antilles.

Kassav' drew in influences from balakadri and bal granmoun dances, biguine's and mazurka's, along with more contemporary Caribbean influences like compas, 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.

Zouk-love or the French Antilles compas music

Zouk Love is the French Antilles compas music, characterized by a slow, soft and sexual rhythm. The lyrics of the songs often speak of love and sentimental problems.

The music cabo-love from Cape Verde and Kizomba from Angola are also derivatives of this French Antillean compas music style, which sounds basically the same. A main exponent of this sub-genré is Ophelia Marie. Other artists come from the French West Indies, the Netherlands, and Africa.

Popular artists include French West Indian artists Edith Lefel and Nichols, or like Netherlands based Suzanna Lubrano and Gil Semedo, the African artist Kaysha.

(from the article Zouk of Wikipedia)

Selected examples

Video A


Video B


Video C


Video D


Notable French Antillean zouk or compas artists and DJs

Zouk Machine
Exile One
Edith Lefel
Francky Vincent
Gilles Floro
Jocelyne Béroard
Jocelyne Labylle
Joëlle Ursull
Patrick Saint-Éloi
Les Déesses
Princess Lover
Suzanna Lubrano

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