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GWAKASONNÉ / VWAYAJÉ

Now, this is really fucking something. Throughout the 80s, Guadeloupean great Robert Oumao masterminded three albums from his sprawling big band project Gwakasonné; all of which currently resell online for at least three figures. Across ç Témwen and Moun, Oumao and a cast of prestigious jazz and Gwo Ka players including José Bellerose and Edmony Krater interwove protest-based folk music, lush electronica, gorgeous ambient atmospheres, diasporic African musical traditions, pre-colonial rhythms, and the spiritual side of American jazz. In the process, they created a remarkable body of work that could have only really come out of the Caribbean.  

After Oumao passed away in 2018, East Garafraxa, Ontario-based label, publisher, and distributor Séance Centre started working on Vwayajé, a compilation of material from Gwakasonné, Témwen and Moun to pay homage to Oumao’s “indomitable spirit” and share his unique work with a global audience. Having lived with it for a while now, every time I listen to it, I find myself in awe of how prescient Gwakasonné’s work was, especially in light of the atemporal zone the global experimental music community has located itself in, within recent years. 

Vwayajé is a collection of music from the past and the future, or perhaps a past when it felt like we had a future. Between its blend of Gwo Ka drumming and tuning systems, the contemporaneous jazz of the era, new age electronica motifs, and exploratory recording techniques, over the course of the compilation, something beautiful, heartbreaking, and undeniably bigger than the sum of its parts emerges. I say beautiful because there isn’t a better way to describe the melodies, rhythms and vocal performances eternally archived here. In the same breath, I say heartbreaking, because you can’t engage with Gwakasonné without acknowledging Oumao’s desire for Guadeloupean independence and understanding of the intricacies of Créole poetics. Vwayajé is a life-affirming listen, but it’s life-affirming because, for Oumao’s generation, the music was about far more than just entertainment.

‘Vwayajé’ is out on 5 July in 2LP format through Séance Centre. Pre-order here.  

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