Regular visitors to WTM know how much the music of Guadeloupe and the French Antilles means to us and music lovers the world over – especially after the painstaking work of crews such as Diggers Digest, Hot Mule, Secousse and trend setting DJs – so Meliza’a revive is a joy to behold. It’s another collaborative release between the two labels (Hot Mule and Secousse).
The team explains: “After years of compulsive listening, fantasising about its story, and tracking down the people who made it, it is a treat to finally share this well-kept secret amongst Caribbean music lovers in its entirety. Composed, written and arranged by esteemed producer Alex Dorothée, this eponymous solo album of an amateur singer, hailing from Guadeloupe Island, was recorded in 1984 in Paris. A lo-fi, synth-heavy gem that is hard to categorise – is it early zouk? biguine? kadans? calypso?
“In 2018, German label, Harmonie Exotic, reissued another record by Alex Dorothée. Same vibes, same amazing synth licks. The label manager kindly shared with us Alex Dorothée’s email and our project to reissue the whole Meliza album started taking shape. Only problem, Alex had not been in touch with Meliza for over two decades. Dozens of phone calls to old friends and a few months later, we finally got a number for a certain Jeannine. Meliza performed on a bunch of other records after that period, including their friend King Klero’s – one of the unsung architects of zouk, a movement which was coming to fruition during those years. Alex kept on making music for a few years until 1989, the year the sky fell on him. A category five hurricane named ‘Hugo’ devastated the island, affecting more than two million people in its path. Alex lost everything – his studio, instruments, his home, archives, photos… Shocked and depressed, he stopped making music for a decade.
“Nowadays Alex is making music again, in his home studio in Guadeloupe.”
Interest was generated in 2013, when a youtuber named Doudou 973 uploaded a song called Paradis En Moin, triggering new interest in the Meliza LP from a number of European DJs. A few copies of the original vinyl started circulating on Discogs, and the price went up.
In 2015, the Digital Zandoli team, composed of Nicolas Skliris and Julien Achard, picked Anragé, another cut from the album, to feature on the first volume of their acclaimed compilation series Digital Zandoli. The two essential volumes of this compilation series – as well as the Diggers Digest mixes that are associated – are essential listening.
In Achard’s words: “A monster electro zouk anthem, Anragé is a kind of creole ritornello with a superb synth hook and heavy electronic beat on a zouk pattern. But this ultra rare album reveals many more excellent tracks like Tou Patou Sé Zouk, another great tropical dancefloor stepper. Or Rythme Oublié, a dreamy electronic calypso track also featuring this catchy vintage synth and guitar solo.”
Eventually the team involved with the Meliza record spoke to the singer herself: “My name is Jeannine Sifflet,” she explained. “…but all my friends call me ‘Janis’, in reference to Janis Joplin, because I can’t help but sing all the time. I was born in Paris but raised in Guadeloupe. My family then returned to France in 1975, settling in Vitry-Sur-Seine, when i was still a teenager. At the age of 18 I met Alex Dorothée through a common friend.
“I guess he was charmed by my voice and vibes, and invited me to record backing vocals on a few of his projects. Then he offered to write, compose and produce my solo album. We started rehearsing for it pretty quickly and rented a small recording studio located rue de Clignancourt, in the 18th Parisian district. Alex used a wacky synth lended by a friend of his, a drum machine and invited a few friends to complete the line up. We both moved back to Guadeloupe the year of the release, doing a little promotion on local TVs and radio channels. And that was it! I lost track of Alex over the years, so it’s nice to reconnect. I keep fond memories of that era.”
The painstaking work of reissuing artists like this is so rewarding when artists can be tracked down. The team pride themselves on it. This project follows Hot Mule’s last reissue – another timely reissue of an extremely rare album – Heerlens Percussie Ensemble’s Biologic Music.
Its a record of diverse influences, styles and is simply mind blowing to delve into once again. This type of priceless music is a joy to behold thanks to expert curation and all of the hard work at the label. The 1986 pressing of this release would regularly be priced in the three figure £/$ range.
For more check out the Hot Mule Bandcamp.
Here are some other incredible zouk tracks, that have been uncovered or celebrated by collaborative work, or as individual labels (Hot Mule and/or Secousse.
The Secousse TV platform is also a must-visit for music fans – a radio/sound system/record label since 2006.
And here’s a WTM mix focusing on the range of styles – from zouk to gwo ka – found in Guadelopue and near-neighbour Martinique: