The islands of Guadeloupe were colonized by the French in 1635. Under their watch the indigenous Carib Indians were routed and African slaves were brought onto the islands and forced to work in the burgeoning sugar industry. Several hundred years later, soon after the French abolished slavery on Guadeloupe in 1848, the island's plantation owners had workers from one of France's East Indian colonies, Pondicherry, brought over to labor in the cane fields. As a result of these multifarious influences, Guadeloupe's cultural practices -- including its music -- are hybrids of various traditions. For example, gwo ka music, which is traditionally performed during nocturnal gatherings called léwòz, incorporates the French-influenced Creole vocals of a lead singer and accompanying chorus with drummers playing on African-modeled gwo ka drums, the low-pitched boula and the higher-pitched makyè. Among the more popular practitioners of gwo ka music is the vocalist Marie-Line Dahomay. On Yo, Dahomay is joined by an all-female choir, Kalindi-Ka, and a battery of percussionists. Dahomay delves into such issues as femininity, religiosity, unrequited love, reclaimed ancestry, and Guadeloupe's complex cultural identity. Dahomay's powerful and soulful voice allows her to deliver these and other messages with conviction. As stated in her liner notes, the songs on this particular CD are not meant to reflect traditional gwo ka music. Rather, they "were inspired by traditional songs, enriched by Cuban rhythms." Indeed, Afro-Cuban rumba rhythms and timbres from such drums as the bata and conga at times overpower the gwo ka drums, thus giving the music a predominately Afro-Cuban sound. Whatever its relation to traditional gwo ka, Marie-Line Dahomay & Kalindi-Ka's Yo is full of beautiful vocal harmonies, vibrant polyrhythms, and thoughtful lyrics. All in all, it's a must-have for those interested in contemporary interpretations of traditional Caribbean music.
AllMusic Review by John Vallier