Various Artists

Guadeloupe: Gwoka, Lewoz Evening in Jabrun

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Not a lot of music has been released from Guadeloupe, making this collection particularly valuable for that reason alone. Although it was also packaged as part of a three disc wrap-around box entitled Drums of South America, it is quite different from either of the other sets in that collection in several important ways. For one, it is the only set that comes entirely from one recording location, that being the Baie Mahault region of Jabrun. The producer uses the concept of assembling a small squad of performers who then get combined in various groupings for different songs, and unlike the other sets in the box, the performers here are actually identified by name. If a listener jumps to the conclusion that this indicates a more disciplined type of music than might be found on other South American recordings, then hopefully the resulting fall will not cause great injury. While the Cuban drummers tend to move in a loose, coordinated effort like a pack of wolves circling around prey, the slam bang of the gwoka drummers is seriously out of control, or at least just sounds like it, which is better, anyway. And while the pastoral, floating patter of the Venezuelan descendents of freed slaves might help an apartment neighbor to trance off into sleep and bring a compliment the next morning, a loud portion of gwoka will bring nothing but trouble, including perhaps irritated police. Ethnic music adventurers are always looking for the performances that, if brought to life on one's living room carpet, would evoke a reaction of fear and panic, and this is one of those recordings for sure. In terms of the singing, a case could be made that some of it sounds like a drunk approaching up the street at night -- and in the case of a person whose drunken neighbor happened to be from Guadeloupe, the similarity was real indeed. It is not a comparison that should be pressed at all times, however, despite the almost intoxicated atmosphere of some of the performances. There is indeed much lovely singing, solo and in group settings, that no drunks on earth would be capable of, and a great deal of rhythmically miraculous playing on drums with lovable names. The liner notes are a bit confusing in this regard; some of the instruments people are credited with playing are not described, while some that are described are also not credited as being played. While the label does provide plenty of good information in general in several languages, it is a shame not to have the lyrics -- descriptions such as "the theme refers to a dark chapter of Guadeloupe history" and "song of pornographic nature" really do whet the appetite.