DJ Tron's 'Retro Zouk' Mixtape

Stream The Very Best co-founder DJ Tron's 45-minute exploration of 80s French Antillean zouk music in his 'Retro Zouk' mix.

Secousse Radio's DJ Tron, a co-founder of Radioclit/The Very Best, comes through with the 45-minute Retro Zouk mixtape, an exploration into the 1980s French-Antillean zouk style popularized by band's like Kassav (which was recently flipped to birth the underground zouk bass genre). DJ Tron explained his selections in detail to Okayafrica via e-mail:

"I grew up in France in the eighties, an era where certain zouk artists like Kassav, Francky Vincent and Zouk Machine were at the top of the charts. They still are very popular to this day, every single French person knows "Maldon" by Zouk Machine for instance. When you listen to the FM in France today, you can still hear their tunes being played regularly. Paris was definitely zouk city of adoption, it had many record shops, discotheques and radio stations dedicated to it and most of the big artists were based there."

"I was obsessed with hip hop as a teenager," DJ Tron adds, "I went to live in London for eight years for the love of grime and sound system culture, and I started digging heavily into African music more than a decade ago. It is only a few years ago, after relistening for the millionth time to the biggest zouk classic "Zouk-la-sé Sel Médikaman Nou Ni" by Kassav that I felt I should investigate properly with that sound of my youth. I had been playing that tune for a very long time in my DJ sets and there was a few times where Caribbean people would come to the booth to talk to me and ask me for tons of tunes that they were calling 'classics' and that I had no idea about. The more I started getting into other zouk records, thanks to youtube and French flea markets, the more I realized the quality of it. It had two main ingredients that were definitely missing in current dance music: proper musicianship and happy vibes."

"Today I consider zouk a massive influence on my approach to music. I think musicianship, learning how to play an instrument for real (and not just to record 20 seconds and make a loop), and major chords are probably what is gonna shape the sound of tomorrow's clubs. I think it is the message that Daft Punk also delivered with "Get Lucky" and the hiring of Nile Rodgers and so many other fantastic musicians. Which brings me to my last point: the meeting of zouk and disco. You can hear that vibe slightly surfacing sometimes in my mix, like in "Soleil" and "Lague Moin," and it's fantastic."

"Zouk is a ghost in Paris now," he concludes, "most clubs, record shops and radios [that played it] have closed long ago. Modern zouk still being made is not so good I feel. But I'm sure the wave could come back big time."

Stream DJ Tron's extensive excursion into Guadeloupe and Martinique's 1980s zouk style above in 'Retro Zouk.'


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This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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