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Music of Martinique
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Biguine is a rhythm-centric style of music that originated in Martinique in the 19th century. It fuses 19th-century French ballroom dance steps with African rhythms.[1]


Two main types of French antillean biguine can be identified based on the instrumentation in contemporary musical practice, which is call the drum biguine and the orchestrated biguine. Each of these refer to contexts of a specific origin. The drum biguine, or bidgin bélé in Creole, comes from a series of bélé dances performed since early colonial times by the slaves who inhabited the great sugar plantations. Musically, the bidgin bélé can be distinguished from the orchestrated biguine in the following ways: its instrumentation (cylindrical single-membraned drum (bélé) and the rhythm sticks (tibwa); the call-and-response singing style; the soloist's improvisation, and the nasal voice quality. According to a recent study by Rosemain (1988), the biguine figured in fertility rituals practiced in West Africa, but its ritual significance has since disappeared in Martinique. The biguine could be thought of, then, as a continuation of a value system that is in essence African but now with the sugar plantations as its social platform. The late singers Ti-Émile, Ti-Raoul and Eugène Mona remain to this day symbols of the bidgin bélé.

The orchestrated biguine has taken a completely different route, however. Its more hybrid ancestry can be traced to Saint-Pierre, an urban center which since the 19th century has harbored a considerable number of residents of French descent. While it keeps the syncopated character of the bidgin bélé, this urban biguine takes on an almost Dixieland flavor by virtue of its complex instrumentation. The melody, while sung in Creole, uses a verse-refrain form, bespeaking an unmistakably French influence. The well-known Mwen désend Sin Piè, as well as many other melodies popularized by Léona Gabriel, the Pierre Rassin Orchestra and Loulou Boislaville, among others, would fit into this category.

The characteristics of the drum and orchestrated biguines are distinguished by highlighting the stylistic elements of each, as well as indicating the place of origin. The same binary rhythmic pattern maintained by the tibwa is present in both cases, suggesting that this rhythm that characterizes the biguine, and could therefore be called its main identifying trait.

The classic music of carnival in the Antilles is an uptempo version of the biguine rhythm, called "biguine vide."


Bidgin bélé or drum biguine – originates in slave bélé dances and characterized by the use of bélé drums and tibwa rhythm sticks, along with call and response, nasal vocals and improvised instrumental solos; has its roots in West African ritual dances.

The bélé itself is a huge tambour drum that players ride as though it was a horse. It is characterized, in its rhythm, by the "tibwa" (two wooden sticks) played on a length of bamboo mounted on a stand to the tambour bèlè, and is often accompanied by the chacha. The cinquillo is beat out by the tibwa, but it translates very well to the chacha (a maracas) when the rhythms are applied for playing biguine.[2][3] [4]

Orchestrated biguine[edit]

By combining the traditional bélé music with the polka, the black musicians of Martinique created the biguine, which comprises three distinct styles:

  • the biguine de salon
  • the biguine de bal
  • the biguine de rue.

Lacking recognition at home, several biguine artists from Martinique moved to mainland France, where they achieved greater popularity in Paris, especially in the wake of the colonial exhibition in 1931. Between the 1930s and 1950s, the dance beguine was popular among the islands' dance orchestras. Early stars like Alexandre Stellio and Sam Castandet became popular. In the later part of the 20th century, biguine musicians like clarinet virtuoso Michel Godzom helped revolutionize the genre. Its popularity abroad died relatively quickly, but it lasted as a major force in popular music on Martinique and Guadeloupe until Haitian compas took over in the 1950s.

Biguine has many features in common with the New Orleans jazz, and have influenced its development.

Evolution of biguine[edit]

The signature sound of the biguine is the interplay between the clarinet and trombone, both solo and as a duet, which can still be heard today throughout Antilles music, from the most traditional forms like cadence or the pop sounds of today's zouk. While the phrasing often recalls New Orleans jazz, the overall sound is unmistakably Caribbean. Any contemporary music that uses biguine as its base, even what ventures as far off as contemporary jazz, is considered "biguine moderne."

The biguine’s evolution can be traced in the following types of music: Haitian compas and kadans through the rhythmic pattern played on the cymbals, which is identical to the maracas rhythm of the biguine; Dominican cadence-lypso through the rhythmic patterns played on the high hat; and the tibwa rhythm of zouk played on the rim of the snare drum, which is thought to be a synthesis of these different rhythms.[5]

Biguine musicians[edit]

  • Roger Fanfant (1900–1966)
  • Henri Debs
  • Alexandre Stellio (1885–1939)
  • Émilien Antile
  • Léona Gabriel (1891–1971)
  • Al Lirvat (1916–2007)
  • Robert Mavounzy
  • Fernand Donatien (1922–2003)
  • Sam Castendet (1906–1993)
  • Barel Coppet (1920–2009
  • Ernest Léardée (1896–1988)
  • Gérard Laviny
  • Fernande de Virel
  • Honoré Coppet (1910–1990)
  • Hurard Coppet
  • Félix Valvert
  • Eugène Delouche (1909–1975)
  • Marius Cultier
  • Paulo Rosine (1948–1993)
  • Francisco
  • Maurice Jalier
  • Loulou Boislaville (1919–2001)
  • Moune de Rivel
  • Gertrude Seinin
  • Gisèle Baka
  • Malavoi
  • Max Ransay
  • Abel Zenon

See also[edit]


  1. ^ New York Public Library Performing Arts Desk Reference. New York: Macmillan USA. 1996. p. 232. ISBN 0-02861447-X. 
  2. ^ "Martinique bélé". YouTube. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  3. ^ "bélé dance and music". YouTube. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  4. ^ "Dominica bèlè". YouTube. Retrieved March 6, 2014. 
  5. ^ Guilbault, Jocelyne (1993). Zouk: World Music in the West Indies. p. 111. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 

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