‘Disques Debs International Vol. 2’ Spotlights the Afro-Diasporic Sounds of Guadeloupe’s Most Important Label

Lead Photo: A stretch of coastline in Martinique, in the Lesser Antilles, January 1961. Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images
A stretch of coastline in Martinique, in the Lesser Antilles, January 1961. Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images
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Even though the musical tradition of the French Antillean Guadeloupe and Martinique is full of different flavors, outside their borders it’s often unfairly reduced to only one: zouk. The contagious genre took international dancefloors by storm in the 80s after it was given a carnival overhaul by Kassav’, reaching Latin American airwaves in its original form and through interpretations by local artists, from Wilfrido Vargas to Chayanne. UK’s Strut Records is now on a mission to open a window to the history of Guadeloupian and Martiniquais music through an exploration of one of the region’s staple labels, Disques Debs International.

The longest-running, most prolific French-Antillean imprint, Disques Debs International started out in the late 50s, when Guadeloupian musician and producer Henri Debs decided to open a small studio in the back of his Pointe-à-Pitre clothing shop as a way to record his own work. The idea quickly evolved into a record label, and as it picked up steam, it became the go-to source for creole music from Guadeloupe and Martinique in only a few years, also championing experiments with other rhythms and sounds from the rest of the Caribbean and the world.

Supported by Henri Debs Et Fils and Air Caraibes, Strut Records set out to make an introductory document to the world of Disques Debs International in the form of a three-part compilation series, gathering some of the label’s biggest hits and most fascinating pieces of music. With a catalogue that comprises over 200 LPs and over 300 seven-inches released in the course of 50+ years, it must have been a titanic task for curators Hugo Mendez (Sofrito) and Emile Omar (Radio Nova) to narrow down the selection, but the result is totally worth the effort.

The first volume from the Disques Debs International compilation trilogy, titled An Island Story: Beguine, Afro Latin & Musique Antillaise 1960-1972, was released in 2018, and it covers the early works released through the label on its first decade of existence. It includes a diverse collection of genres, from beguine and zouk to reggae and bolero, and projects such as Orchestre Esperanza, Orchestre Caribbean Jazz, and even Debs himself.

Cadence Revolution: Disques Debs International Vol. 2 is now out for our enjoyment, and this time the focus is set on the music from the label’s 70s era. As its name suggest, this installment showcases the ubiquitous influence of Haitian sounds, specifically cadence rampa, in the local music made during the decade. For instance, the cadence rhythm and signature brass arrangement can be heard on songs like “Lina Femm’ Foll,” by Smoke and Guadafrica Combo’s “Moin Ce Roi Roi.”

But beyond a Guadeloupe-Martinique-Haiti cross-pollination, Cadence Revolution is also proof of a larger musical conversation going on in the 70s all over the Caribbean. That’s how we can find Typical Combo reinterpreting one of the LeBron Brothers’ biggest hits, “Piénsalo Bien.” There’s an undeniable Afro-Cuban feel to “Moin Domi Derho,” by Super Combo and “Mauve Chauffe,” by Edouard Benoit, and the Jamaican connection comes courtesy of Midnight Groovers with their song “Stranger.” Other sounds of the African diaspora are also conjured here, like Guy Conquette’s “Ping Pong,” with its dizzyingly jazzy keyboards married with gwa ko, the indigenous Guadeloupian music; or Galaxy’s “Disco Funk,” whose title really gives it all away.

Cadence Revolution: Disques Debs International Vol. 2 is an exceptional work of curation that will hopefully tickle the curiosity of music fans around the world to research the vast universe of Guadeloupian and Martiniquais music. It’s also a reminder of the powerhouse that was Disques Debs International and the impact it had in how the local music was shaped.

Listen to the compilation here: