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Culture

by By Victor Hache

“A Rootless Negro”: Henri Guedon embodied Black Diversity

Translated by Didier tsanga

Translated Friday 3 March 2006, by Didier

Obituary: Percussionist, painter and sculptor, the Martinique-born artist, Henri Guedon, has died at the age of 62 from a heart-disease.

He was one of France’s best percussionists. The Martinique-born painter, sculptor, and musician, Henri Guedon, died on Sunday at a French hospital, la Pitié-Salpétrière in Paris. Hospitalized since ending January, his relatives said he died as a result of a heart disease.

He was born on 22nd of May 1944 at Fort-de-France and had been working in Paris since 1964 where he praised his Caribbean roots through music that was based on jazz and through his paintings inspired from Latin Afro-cuban artists.

He was first interested in music. In his native island, he created La Contesta, a group of six musicians, with Paul Rosine, foondly remembered, pianist and founder of the Group Malavoi. Rhythmicly gifted by nature, Henri Guedon had played with the best Afric-Cuban musicians since the beginning of his career. In Paris, he created the first Caribbean Big Band Jazz for the Jazz Fusion concert. This won him to be called the title of "French Salsa King", long before the “Latin” style became famous. He then released his Cosmo-Zouk album, coining in the process the word “zouk”, which the group Kassav would later claim as theirs.

Creole, jazz, salsa, or strictly-modern sounds.... Guedon’s music was a universal style which harmoniously combined the diversity of the Black musical heritage. Inquisitive about everything and interested in all musical genres, Henri Guedon composed a kind of "Marseillaise", the French National Anthem, to fit the tempo of three continents - “homage to a revolutionary tune known worldwide”- as well as a recording to honour Dizzie Gillepsie, Latin Be Bop. As a world-famous musician, it was during his stay in New York that he created a salsa latin-jazz Big Band. As singer and percussionist, he recorded more than 50 albums. Lover of jazz, latin rythms, and bélé (Martinique’s traditional music), he performed at the Olympia and New Morning jazz club in Paris, as well as in the United States. The images of his performance in Bourges, France, in 1987 as well as his concert for SOS-Racisme in June 1989 left vivid memories.

As a talented artist, painting formed another part of his life. This ‘Rootless Negro’, as he used to refer to himself, followed a syncretic cultural path in his artistic trajectory. One of his last works, in 2003, included a gigantic piece of work, Zebol Karé Toubanman, made up of 1,406 Neisson rhum bottles, and was exhibited inFort-de France Court of Justice. Working often with large format pieces, he enjoyed creating gigantic works. Including the commission "Freedom Trees" from the Shoelcher Library in Martinique. He considered public zones to be the best places to express his art. He painted several frescoes, in the open air, to depict scenes of events organized by our paper, l’Humanité. He participated in the bi-annual art-shows in Japan and Cuba and created several works for the Musée de l’Homme in Paris.

Henri Guedon was a humanist bred by several cultures. As a man of peace, of boundless generosity, engaged in the fight against racism and the abuses this has generated, he designed the drawing on the imagery on the stamp for the 150th anniversary of slavery abolition in 1998.


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