The news just broke out today after weeks of speculation. Jacob Desvarieux had been admitted to the hospital due to Covid 19 and did not make it. While many of us hoped he would have survived – the same thoughts which crossed our minds when DMX was still in coma-, we were hurt to hear the information. It is true that, due to the great presence of French West Indians in France, Kassav was always played for they marked the musical landscape. However, as the colonized French territories of Polynesia, La Réunion and Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyana are still submitted to the French rule, their culture is also despised by the authorities, unless the latter want to dance.
Kassav was an anomaly in the French Caribbean. There, the taboo of slavery left an important impact and many West Indians resent the Africans for the demise accusing them of having sold them out five hundred years ago. By the time Kassav was created, their unusual musical sound not only changed the sonorities of the French Caribbean but they were also one of the first bands to have dared go back to the Mother Land, Africa, especially when the French Caribbeans were still reluctant to take a step back. It was not rare at the time to hear Caribbean parents encourage their children to distance themselves from Africa and Africans as the colonizers have supported this false ideology of Caribbean superiority over the Africans.
Jacob Desvarieux, the co-founder of Kassav was not only an extraordinary musician and writer, but he was also the one who built a bridge back to the mother land. Because of him, many Kongolese artists such as Tshala Muana (Lubaphone), Sam Mangwana or even Koffi Olomide have incorporated Caribbean sounds into their music when the elders mostly stuck to Afro-Cuban rhythms in the 1950s and 1960s, Cuba being an inherent part of Congolese music and vice versa.
Kassav never wanted to dissociate the depth of their sound from Africa the source and its blackness at a time when going back to the land was still demonized. The members of the band were not only Africans, but black Caribbeans submitted to the French colonial rule as well and the imagery of whiteness. Through their music they reinforced the idea that the genius of their roots came from Africa first and no where else.
The legacy of Jacob carried on in the late 90s and early 00s within the French rap community, right after the golden age of French rap as members of the Secteur A, including Passi a French-Congolese, or Singuila kept on bringing the two communities together, as they were themselves influenced by the bridge first created by Jacob Desvarieux. This union was also the reason why the Secteur A was created too as the rappers gathered Africans from all the parts of the continent and Caribbeans as well. Such collective was supposed to showcase the unity of all parts of the diaspora.
Like Jacob, and as members of the diaspora, let’s keep forging walls of separation aimed to divide one another as descendants of enslaved people or not. Even if your parents, friends do not understand why you can be attracted to one specific black group and their culture, we should never stop building these bridges of return with one another.
My thoughts and respect to the family of Jacob and the members of Kassav. Stay strong
Mesi anpil Jacob
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By Victoria Kabeya (VKY)