The best musicians in the world are not always the ones with the largest profile, the most albums, or the highest income each year. There are musicians that are more entertainers at heart with mediocre musical attributes, and then there are those musicians who are true artists with vocal talent that make fans sit back in amazement.
Female vocalist Grace Barbe is the perfect example of a musician who can not only put on a show, but also impress fans and critics with her natural ability to entertain a crowd with her vocal skills. Barbe, currently a resident of the state of Western Australia, is a native of the Indian Ocean island nation of Seychelles.
A Creole by birth and heritage, Barbe’s cultural past oozes from her music which is steeped in the world music genre. Since the release of her debut album in 2009, Barbe’s true vocal abilities and engaging Creole sound have made her one of the fastest rising stars on the world music scene.
Unique Musical Fusion
The world music genre, by its very definition, is a blend of styles that encompasses a variety of sounds that are combined to create the genre. Unlike pop music, rock ‘n roll, or American country music which all have distinct sounds that put songs into those categories, there are a variety of “sounds” that make up world music.
In a genre with such a wide open concept of acceptance, it is quite an achievement to gain the recognition that Barbe has managed in a few short years. Music lovers have described Barbe’s musical fusion as a combination of rock, African drum beats, Latin rhythms, and a splash of Creole culture from her native Seychelles.
Her live performances have often been described as experiences rather than concerts because the thumping beat and rich percussion of the music combined with poetic lyrics drive fans into a frenzy of dance. Labeling Barbe as a performer alone would be a great injustice. Her unique musical fusion is not the result of some puppet master behind the scenes, but rather the devotion of Barbe to her work.
More than just a singer, Barbe writes her own music giving it the infusion of the various ethnic backgrounds (African, Asian, and European) that make up her Creole background. Barbe’s group, Afro-Kreol, may not be based in Seychelles, but her island heritage is unmistakable in her songwriting and singing style. Many of her songs have been written, recorded, and performed in English, French, and her native Creole.
A Rising Star
Barbe’s debut album, Kreol Daughter, was released in 2009 and set her profile in the world music community on an upward trajectory. Following its release, Barbe toured throughout the Indian Ocean as well as Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand performing at world music festivals along the way.
Her colourful performances combined with a sound that has been described as fresh and funky, have made her a hit at festivals across the region. Given the deep connection to her cultural roots in Seychelles, it is no surprise that Barbe performed at several festivals in the Indian Ocean region she hails from.
As her popularity has increased, she has appeared at SAKIFO and IOMMA (La Reunion), Reggae Donnsa (Mauritius), and Carnivale Internationale de Victoria (Seychelles). Barbe’s meteoric rise has drawn comparisons to high profile world music female vocalists such as Angelique Kidjo and Miriam Makeba.
Barbe’s success is not solely hers alone. She performs on albums and at festivals with the members of her band, Afro-Kreol. Performing alongside Barbe (vocals, guitar, bass guitar) are band members Jamie Searle (guitar, bass guitar), Thierryno Gangou (keys, vocals), Freddy Poncin (drums, percussion), Mahamudo Selimane (guitar, vocals), and Dan Carroll (guitar).
Recently, Barbe’s younger sister Joelle Barbe joined the group performing on the drums and percussion. Obviously, Afro-Kreol has found a groove because for an astonishing four years in a row the group has been named “Best World Act” in Western Australia.
2013 and Beyond
Following the release of two previous albums and appearances at several music festivals around the globe, 2013 was a very busy year for Barbe and the rest of Afro-Kreol. The group kicked off 2013 with a 3rd appearance at Woodford Folk Festival before embarking on a huge regional tour which saw them perform at WOMAD in New Zealand, 10 Days on the Island in Tasmania, the Port Fairy Folk Festival, and in Melbourne’s Federation Square.
After a string of successful albums and CD singles, 2013 saw the release of the group’s latest album entitled Welele! on 2 November. Barbe and the group rang in 2014 with a performance in their hometown of Perth on New Year’s Day.
Barbe and Afro-Kreol joined Melbourne Ska Orchestra, Lee Fields, and the Sunshine Brothers at the 6th Annual New Year’s Day Concert at Fremantle Arts Centre in Perth. If 2013 is any indication, Barbe and the band should be very busy in 2014 as well.
One thing is clear; Barbe’s unique fusion of rock, reggae, sega, and various traditional musical genres from her native Creole culture have captivated world music audiences. With her profile growing and popularity well established throughout the Indian Ocean, it is only a matter of time before world music fans around the globe are exposed to the soul and energy Barbe puts into all of her work.