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RIP pioneering zouk guitarist Jacob Desvarieux

Jacob Desvarieux Kassau, at the concert against the Front National in Paris, France, on May 4, 2017
(Image credit: Guillaume Pinon/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Jacob Desvarieux, the guitarist and frontman of French Antilles band Kassav’, has died aged 65.

The guitarist and songwriter reportedly passed away on July 30, 2021 after testing positive for Covid-19.

Desvarieux and his band produced over 20 records, plus five solo records.

The guitarist was born in Paris, but spent his early years on the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique in the French Antilles, alongside some time in Senegal.

He learned to play guitar aged 10 and returned to France in his teens, eventually playing in studio sessions and several rock bands. It was there, in 1979, that Desvarieux would meet Pierre-Édouard Décimus and form the band that made his name.

The group’s innovative approach channeled the carnival music of Guadeloupe and Martinique’s rhythmic biguine style, alongside many other influences into a more modern hybrid sound that incorporated MIDI and electronic elements. The style became known as ‘zouk’ and brought them international renown.

In particular, their 1985 song Zouk la sé sèl médikaman nou ni, which roughly translates as “Zouk is the only medicine we have” was a hit around the world, bringing the band popularity across Latin America, Europe and Africa.

Desvarieux would eventually make his home once more in Guadeloupe. He had a kidney transplant in his later years, which is thought to have compromised his immunity and made him more susceptible to more severe illness.

Upon his death, French president Emmanuel Macron tweeted, “Sacred zouk monster. Outstanding guitarist. Emblematic voice of the Antilles. Jacob Desvarieux was all of these at the same time.”

Matt Parker

Matt is a freelance journalist who has spent the last decade interviewing musicians for the likes of Total Guitar, Guitarist, Guitar World, MusicRadar, NME.com, DJ Mag and Electronic Sound. In 2020, he launched CreativeMoney.co.uk, which aims to share the ideas that make creative lifestyles more sustainable. He plays guitar, but should not be allowed near your delay pedals.