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French-Caribbean pop has long had its own distinct personalities in types of song like compas and zouk , but it's also fascinating to see what other elements emerge from it; musicians from Martinique, Haiti and French Guyana have become repositories for other kinds of music of the Western Hemisphere.
Kali, from Martinique, was the show's headliner; he has been a presence in French-Caribbean music since the 's. As with so many other places, the West Indies had a black-consciousness period of rediscovering its cultural identity; that was the beginning of Kali's career, and he was trying to discover the backbone of Martinican music.
He plays a small banjo an instrument with African origins , and on Saturday he used it either as a rhythm instrument, hacking clipped chords with it, or as a melody instrument, depending on the style of song. His songs ranged from dancehall-style reggae to variations on Martinican beguine, which sounds a bit like old American string-band country, to Bob Marley homages.
Thin and easygoing, wearing some of the longest dreadlocks in show business, he had a burry African sound in his voice -- a dry, throaty holler. And he helped swing the songs of religion and country life by his strong up-and-down strokes on his rustic old instrument, while behind him a modern electric band filled the musical space. Beethova Obas, from Haiti, was the most out-of-the-ordinary act on the bill. He's not a hard-core practitioner of mizik rasin, Haitian roots music; his songs are more influenced by bossa nova and French chanson.
His voice is soft and lovely, and he's one of the mellowest, most sympathetic pop stars imaginable; he began by dedicating his set to all those in the audience who couldn't speak French or Creole. Though he carried a full band, with electric bass, percussion, drums and piano and three backup singers, it sometimes amounted only to a whisper. Obas used bossa voicings in his guitar chords and worked gentle rumba into the rhythms; when he started an audience singalong, as he did on a version of Serge Gainsbourg's ''Couleur Cafe,'' he controlled the crowd and let the audience finish the song with what almost amounted to a natural fade-out.
Chris Combette, from French Guyana, was the youngest performer on the bill, a musician who has spent time in various Caribbean bands he was a sideman with Kali, among others ; he came across as a more standard world-pop musician, with a whiff of Parisian production ideals.
His lead electric guitarist ran technically sharp jazz-rock pirouettes throughout the music. But again, it carried a strong resemblance to the sound of the late-career music of Brazilian singers like Gilberto Gil, with his rapid articulation of voice and strumming on a nylon-string acoustic guitar over a full electric band.
In Creole, Mr. Combette sang songs of yearning: of a boy who wants to be a musician, and of a French Guyanese waiter in a faraway city who finds himself daydreaming of his home island.
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