In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Music in the Francophone Caribbean

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works

Music Music in the Francophone Caribbean
Jerome Camal
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 January 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0282


The Francophone Caribbean is a complex region: while it shares a history of French colonialism, it is also marked by divergent political trajectories and profound economic disparities. On one hand, there is Haiti, the first independent postcolonial Black nation; on the other, the overseas French départements of Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Guiana. This combination of a shared history of colonial violence (including the genocide of indigenous populations and the enslavement of African people) as well as the diversity of modes and means of resistance against it has made of the Francophone Caribbean a crucible for a rich intellectual, artistic, and musical life. Indigénisme, négritude, marvelous realism, Antillanité, créolité are as many intellectual and artistic movements that have emerged from this crucible to impact intellectual life beyond the Caribbean. Likewise, biguine, konpa, and zouk are just a few of the musical genres whose aesthetic and commercial reach has far exceeded their islands of origin. For all of this musical richness, it is surprising that scholarly literature on music in the Francophone Caribbean has a rather limited scope. In Haiti, it has largely been focused on those practices associated with Vodou (ritual drumming and singing as well as the songs and music of rara) and, in the realm of popular music, with konpa and, to a lesser degree, mizik rasin (roots music) and classical music. Coverage in the French Antilles and Guiana is even more uneven. Guiana has received near to no attention. If scholars have written extensively about gwoka, the Guadeloupean drumming tradition, its Martinican counterpart, bèlè, has received less attention. And if there was a veritable craze for zouk in the 1990s, scholars have not followed Antillean audiences as their musical tastes evolved toward other styles of popular music in the new millennium. Likewise, biguine remains understudied given its transnational circulation in the 1930s. The various sections in this entry reflect these imbalances. If the current entry focuses on Haiti, the French Antilles (Martinique and Guadeloupe), and French Guiana, it should be noted that Dominica and Saint Lucia share the same Creole language, and contribute to the circulation of people, goods, and music in the Lesser Antilles. This being said, because the Oxford Bibliographies entry on music in the Anglophone Caribbean already covers Dominica and Saint Lucia, they have been left out of this overview.

Reference Works

The Francophone Caribbean does not receive as much attention as Spanish- and English-speaking islands in anglophone scholarship. Nonetheless, the reference sources below offer significant coverage regarding music in Haiti, the French Antilles, and French Guiana. Among the encyclopedias listed here, Olsen and Sheehy 1998 may feel the most dated, but it is still worth consulting for readers looking primarily for an introduction to the formal elements of Caribbean musics. Kuss 2007 offers a good update, foregrounding essays by local scholars. Shepherd, et al. 2005 and Horn, et al. 2014 are also excellent entry points. The strength here is on linking music making to colonial and postcolonial history. Gray 2010 offers an extensive annotated bibliography on Francophone Caribbean music. While it would benefit from an update, it is still a powerful resource for scholars just launching into new projects. For a sample of textbooks addressing music in the Francophone Caribbean, see Overview of Caribbean Music below.

  • Gray, John. From Vodou to Zouk: A Bibliographic Guide to Music of the French-Speaking Caribbean and Its Diaspora. Nyack, NY: African Diaspora Press, 2010.

    With entries spanning both academic and popular writings on Caribbean music up to the early 2000s, Gray’s bibliography remains an important resource.

  • Horn, David, Heidi Feldman, Mona-Lynn Courteau, Pamela Narbona Jerez, and Hettie Malcomson, eds. Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. Vol. 9. London and New York: Bloomsbury, 2014.

    Companion to Shepherd, et al. 2005. Although putatively focused on popular music, the volume includes entries for many so-called traditional genres as well.

  • Kuss, Malena, ed. Music in Latin America and the Caribbean: An Encyclopedic History. Vol. 2, Performing the Caribbean Experience. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007.

    Rich overview of Caribbean musics, written largely by local scholars. While the anglophone and Hispanophone Caribbean receive the lion’s share of the coverage, there are a few entries on the Francophone Caribbean: two entries on Haiti (plus an entry on Haitian music in Cuba) and one entry on Martinique.

  • Olsen, Dale E., and Daniel E. Sheehy, ed. The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Vol. 2. New York: Garland, 1998

    Covers Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. General essays about South American and Caribbean musics as well as entries for specific territories: French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, as well as Dominica and Saint Lucia receive an entry each. The focus is on formal elements (organology, scales, rhythms), rather than the political economy of music.

  • Shepherd, John, David Horn, and Dave Laing, eds. Continuum Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. Vol. 3. London and New York: Continuum, 2005.

    An update of sorts on the Garland encyclopedia with short entries on Guadeloupe, Haiti, Martinique, and French Guiana, written by some of the same scholars. Each entry offers a brief history of each location, linking musical developments to colonial and postcolonial contexts. The focus is largely on popular music genres. Brief bibliographies and discographies for each entry make the Continuum encyclopedia a good starting point for further research.

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