“Gwoka was born out of necessity to reflect the moods of a people—its joys, its fears—and that’s why there are so many different rhythms. In Guadeloupe, gwoka is considered to be much more than a music style. It’s how they assert their Guadeloupean cultural identity as distinct from French national identity. Transmitting gwoka music involves the transmission of a collective history.”
Three years ago, Séance Centre’s eye-opening Gwakasonné compilation opened my ears to the music of Guadeloupe. A sound that seemed to encompass Sun Ra and Pharoah Sanders’ seeking ’70s work, the tireless drums of Jamaican nyabinghi, the Afro-Caribbean fusion of Cedric Im Brooks, and the synth patches of private issued new age music, gwoka nevertheless defied easy categorization. As I learned more about the form, I realize that the themes underpinning this form of expression tie into so much of our current narrative. It’s music with roots embedded in 17th century colonization, slavery, and creolization. It’s a music of defiance, of protest, of ritual, a music that has strong spiritual ties, acknowledging ancestors and fearlessly moving forward.
The incredible new compilation Lèspri Ka: New Directions in Gwoka Music from Guadeloupe 1981-2010 shines a much-needed light on this music. And the past few years have seen a wondrous amount of this music available once more.
New Directions in Gwoka for Bandcamp