A teacher and performer of both traditional and modern Caribbean musical forms, Dede Saint Prix was born in Martinique. From an early age, he fell in love with the traditional chouval bwa music of his native land, and was soon performing and recording his music. Playing the bamboo flute, saxophone and percussion instruments, Dede is also an accomplished singer. Now retired as a music teacher, he continues to tour, performing many forms of Caribbean music and has released, over the years, more than 25 albums and CDs.

Growing up at a time and in a place where a rich musical tradition was the very heart of his society, Dédé Saint Prix has become famous around the world as a teacher and performer of the music of the Caribbean. Born on 10 February 1953 in Le François, Martinique, an island in the Lesser Antilles and an overseas region of France, he was given the birth name of André but was soon dubbed Dédé. He was raised by his grandparents in this town on the Atlantic coast of the island, where he was exposed at an early age to the traditional chouval bwa music of the local fairs, sparking his passion for music.

Chouval bwa music

For those who are not familiar with it, chouval bwa is a folk music form that draws its heritage from the era of slave plantations on Martinique. At its heart is a bèlè, a large tambour drum that is played by a tanbouyè (drummer) sitting astride it, as if it were a horse. The accompanying instruments are a tibwa (a length of bamboo mounted on a stand, played with two wooden sticks) and chacha (maracas). A lavwa (singer) and an answering choir called the lavwa Deye add vocals in Creole, in which spectators can participate. His family legend has it that Dédé first heard chouval bwa at the age of 6, when he rode on a carousel that had a band playing in the centre of the platform.

Early musical exposure

Soon, music became the focus of young Dédé’s life. He became a member of the choir at the Fort-de-France Cathedral and, at the same time began to play the congas with small neighbourhood bands, such as Les Trouvères, Les Juniors and La Selecta. Although the first time he appeared on an album was as part of the cathedral choir, by his late teens he was also recording with the bands E+ and Malavoi. He then formed his own band, an experimental rhythmic group called Pakatak, which released two albums, in 1979 and 1980. Soon after, Dédé formed another band, Avan Van, which recorded at least half a dozen albums over the next decade.

Teaching as well as making music

Music was not just an outlet for Dédé Saint Prix’s creativity, however; after he graduated from school, he decided to become a music teacher. For nearly 20 years, Dédé used his talents to instruct and inspire the young people of Martinique in the theory and practice of music. It was during this time that he developed teaching methods that he continues to use in the workshops he still offers throughout the world. In addition to being a teacher, Dédé continued to be a student himself, investigating the musical forms throughout the Caribbean. He studied the traditional gwo ka of nearby Guadeloupe, rara festival music and meringue-inspired kompa (compas) from Haiti and, of course, zouk, an offshoot of chouval bwa using modern instruments. Reaching further afield, he also studied Cuban forms, such as the guitar-percussion son, and charanga, which it inspired.

Bamboo flute and more…

Playing the bamboo flute (for which he is justly famous) and the saxophone, as well as being a percussionist and singer, Dédé continued to perform in public throughout the Caribbean, in Canada and Europe. He became particularly popular in France, performing at a jazz festival in Angoulême in June 1981. During the summer of 1985 alone, he toured 48 venues throughout France. By the end of that decade, he had more than two dozen major performances throughout the world to his credit.

An even busier life, post retirement

In 1991, he completed a long and successful teaching career and retired. This was, by no means, a retirement from music, however. If anything, his touring increased, with concerts in France, Canada, Spain, United States, Ecuador, Columbia, England, Brazil and, of course, throughout the Caribbean, introducing the joys of chouval bwa and other Caribbean music to a much wider audience. Throughout these years, he has also collaborated with many other musicians and groups, including French composer Thierry Pecóu, the Orchestre National de France, the group Malavoi on their album Marronage (1999), Martinican singer Jocelyne Béroard, guitarist Jose Angel Navarro, French guitarist André (“Slim”) Pezin, the zouk singer Tanya Saint-Val and many others. He has also worked with Philippe Bouteloup, founder of the French organisation Musique et Santé, which advocates the performance of live music in hospitals for the support and recovery of patients. Dédé also used his travels to provide workshops on percussion, Creole songs and the musical traditions of the Caribbean.

Chevalier de Légion d’Honneur

After half a century as a performer and teacher, Dédé Saint Prix continues to release albums and perform in concert. In 2012, he was made a Chevalier de Légion d’Honneur and Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres of France. His energy, joy and love of Caribbean music have also made him a beloved ambassador of music throughout the world.

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