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Uniquely Martinique 

When Marce and Toumpak arrive at this year's Jazz Fest, audiences will have the opportunity to enjoy the most exciting pop music coming out of the French Antilles island of Martinique. The style is called "zouk chouv'," a unique blend of traditional hand-drumming, bamboo flute and unusual staccato singing mixed with electric guitars, keyboards and trap drums. Based on Marce's past appearances in Louisiana, it can be said unequivocally that zouk chouv' is most satisfying to world-music fans who favor rootsy music with a contemporary punch.

Few who were in Lafayette in 1993 could possibly forget Marce's American debut appearance at Festival International de Louisiane. For his Friday evening performance, he gave the impression through dress and unassuming manner that he had come straight from the Martinican cane fields, emphasizing the rural end of his musical repertoire honed from years as a young performer with the Grand Ballet de Martinique. On Saturday, he totally surprised everyone when he arrived onstage dressed in white from head to toe in the height of Parisian sapeur fashion to deliver a sophisticated rhythm-driven set of music that showed that the country boy had moved to the city.

Marce's music is based predominantly on two rural styles: the belair rhythm diversely interpreted throughout the Caribbean and a strictly Martinican invention called "chouval bwa." Jazz Fest will also present chouval bwa in a more traditional form in the music of Claude Germany and Chouval Bwa of Martinique. Claude and his wife, Joselita, will bring their miniature carousel to Jazz Fest, emphasizing the root of chouval bwa music as an accompaniment to the merry-go-rounds (maneges) brought to the islands by the French colonials. It explains the galloping rhythm of chouval bwa (the name is Creole for "cheval bois" or "wooden horse"), played in an early incarnation by a hand-played country drum called simply tambour (tan'bou in Creole), a big bass drum-like bele tan'bou, accordion and guitars.

In addition to rural rhythms, other faces of French Antilles music will also be presented at Jazz Fest 2003. The Plastic System Band (PSB), a marching band of horns, drums, percussion and traditional carnival characters, will give a powerful taste of contemporary Martinique Carnival. Interspersed with their repertoire of original music will be long medleys of Carnival classics that welcome crowds on the island to sing along and jump in. It's similar in spirit to New Orleans' Carnival music and traditions -- another reason that Martinique bands will feel right at home at Jazz Fest.

click to enlarge Marce (pictured) and Toumpak lead the waves of - scintillating rhythms from Martinique at Jazz Fest.
  • Marce (pictured) and Toumpak lead the waves of scintillating rhythms from Martinique at Jazz Fest.
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