Zouk is a style of music and dance derived from Afro-Caribbean French creole culture of the lesser Antilles, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominica, and St. Lucia. The music is popular in francophone and lusophone countries.

Early Beginnings

Zouk had its initial beginnings in the French department of Guadeloupe and Martinique. Initially, the French departments listened to Jazz and Latin music(Brazil, Argentina, Cuba). Numerous bands sprang up playing these forms. The Mazurka was popular in the 1960s, but did not live significant stamp on Zouk, as other creole styles. Biguine from Guadeloupe, Haitian Cadense Rampa and Compa Direct, and Dominican Cadense-lypso were all Caribbean French creole style popular in the French Antilles. Early Antillian bands included Les Vikings, the Rapaces, Rhythmo Cubano, the Hunters, and the Maxell's. Eventually, a need to develop a distinct antillian form grew among local musicians.


The need to develop a distinct Antillian form saw the formation of Kassav. Kassav was founded by Pierre-Edouard Decimus, a former member of Les Viking and brother George Decimus in 1979. Kassav means a cake made of cassava in creole society. The objective was to take contemporary styles, Caribbean creole forms, and add Antillian folk tradition. The gwo ka and tibwa traditional drums were revived. Kassav utilized the latest in recording technology: synthesizers,  sampler disc (sound effects hands clapping, bottle shattering). The group borrowed elements from non-creole forms: Salsa, Merengue, Tango, Mazurka, Soca/Calypso, American Soul/Funk, Classical Music. It took five years to develop the Zouk sound, before achieving success, with the mega-hit Zouk-la Se Sel Medikaman Nou Ni(Zouk is the Only Medicine We Have). The song combine accoustic guitar, traditional tibwa drums, synthesizers, and cutting edge recording techniques. Zouk had arrived and became a global phenomena, a distinctly antillian sound was born. Numerous zouks acts followed with varied diverging styles: Gazoline, Experience 7, Zouk Machine. Male singers like: Frankie Vincent, Ronald Rubinel, Ralph Thamar, Eric Brouta, Gilles Floro. Female singers: Tanya St. Val, Edith Lefel, Joelle Ursull. 

Kassav's stage presence incorporated choreography and a carnival like display. Zouk remained mostly a studio music. Kassav and Experience 7 were the only bands to do live shows.


Zouk music is characterized by rhythms based on Biguine, Merengue, Compas Direct, and Cadence-lypso. The rhythmic style comes into two forms, Zouk love and Zouk hard. Zouk love is slow and is meant for dancing couples. Zouk hard is uptempo and forceful and carnivalesque. Zouk arrangement is comprised of a rhythm section, brass section, two synthesizer, guitar,  and bass. The lyrics are sang in creole and with love subject matters. It uses solo lines from European music and refrains from local traditional music.


Zouk is dance music. The antillean form of dancing Zouk is the form found in the francophone sphere. With Zouk's proliferation in the lusophone sphere, new styles of dancing has developed. Brazilians dance a lambada base style. Zouk influenced Kizomba developed its own dancing style.

Related Articles:
 Kompa , BachataKizomba ,  Sega , Zydeco

Works Cited

Guibault, Joycelyne(1993). Zouk:World Music in the West Indies. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-31042-6

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